Packed with impeccable scholarship and insightful analysis.

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THE BIRTH OF AMERICA

FROM BEFORE COLUMBUS TO THE REVOLUTION

America grows from embryo to newborn, nurtured by an international cast of characters.

With European explorers, Native Americans and African slaves converging on North America over a short period of time, the history of the not-yet–United States reads like a multicultural history of the world, which is just how Polk (Understanding Iraq, 2005, etc.) presents it in this concise narrative. Wars and internal strife in England, France and Spain forced outcasts, misfits and lawbreakers to set sail for the New World. There they met Native Americans, who were less nomadic and more civilized than traditional representations would lead us to believe, and utilized African slaves, who introduced farming and mining techniques far more advanced than those practiced by European settlers. Rather than furthering the conventional notion of a “melting pot,” Polk’s evenhanded, evocative account shows disparate groups fighting to carve out their niches in harsh new surroundings. Perhaps most interesting is his explication of events leading up to the Revolutionary War. Honing in on economic causes for the split, the author sees logical reasons for British irritation with the ungrateful colonists; he also understands why the Americans, emboldened by years of near-independence due to England’s internal struggles, felt slighted. The fight for independence was not waged by a patriotic and unified nation, Polk declares. Rather, it was conducted by a loose coalition of states whose white inhabitants were nearly as different from each other as they were from slaves and Native Americans. Ultimately, however, this motley alliance was able to call on the shared experiences of criminals, religious pariahs and intrepid adventurers to unite them as they took up arms against the mother country to obtain the one thing that many of them had sought all along: freedom, or at least their version of it.

Packed with impeccable scholarship and insightful analysis.

Pub Date: April 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-075090-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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