Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.



A lively history of the Ohio River region in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War.

McCullough (The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, 2015, etc.) isn’t writing about the sodbusters and hardscrabblers of the Far West, the people whom the word “pioneers” evokes, but instead their predecessors of generations past who crossed the Appalachians and settled in the fertile country along and north of the Ohio River. Manasseh Cutler, one of his principal figures, “endowed with boundless intellectual curiosity,” anticipated the movement of his compatriots across the mountains well before the war had ended, advocating for the Northwest Ordinance to secure a region that, in McCullough’s words, “was designed to guarantee what would one day be known as the American way of life”—a place in which slavery was forbidden and public education and religious freedom would be emphasized. “Ohio fever” spread throughout a New England crippled, after the war, by economic depression, but Southerners also moved west, fomenting the conditions that would, at the end of McCullough’s vivid narrative, end in regional war three generations later. Characteristically, the author suggests major historical themes without ever arguing them as such. For example, he acknowledges the iniquities of the slave economy simply by contrasting the conditions along the Ohio between the backwaters of Kentucky and the sprightly city of Cincinnati, speaking through such figures as Charles Dickens. Indeed, his narrative abounds with well-recognized figures in American history—John Quincy Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Johnny Appleseed—while highlighting lesser-known players. His account of Aaron Burr—who conspired to overthrow the government of Mexico (and, later, his own country) after killing Alexander Hamilton, recruiting confederates in the Ohio River country—is alone worth the price of admission. There are many other fine moments, as well, including a brief account of the generosity that one farmer in Marietta, Ohio, showed to his starving neighbors and another charting the fortunes of the early Whigs in opposing the “anti-intellectual attitude of the Andrew Jackson administration.”

Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6868-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

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


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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