Not in the musicological class of Alan Lomax or at the historical heights of David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom,...



Historian Meacham (The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) teams up with country star McGraw to chart the course of American patriotic music from the Revolution to the present.

Significant events in American life have always had a soundtrack. Bruce Springsteen was ready with “My City of Ruins” when 9/11 occurred, having already recorded it, but it would be a while before Neil Young would release “Let’s Roll” and Alan Jackson would craft “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning?)” As McGraw writes of the songs on Springsteen’s album The Rising in one of the scattered sidebars in which he offers commentary on Meacham’s text, “it’s understandable how these songs have come to be anthems for the brave men and women of the New York fire and police departments.” Neither the main text nor McGraw’s commentary goes particularly deep, and if there’s a thesis, it might be in Meacham’s closing: “The whole panoply of America can be traced—and, more important, heard and felt—in the songs that echo through our public squares.” The authors are agreeably inclusive in their repertoire, from “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome“ to "Over There" and “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” the last of which, McGraw holds, invokes pride, adding, “maybe it’s not cool to say that.” Some songs are well known, such as “Yankee Doodle,” while readers will be glad to know some of the less-remembered tunes of the Revolution, such as “The Liberty Song.” A nice touch comes when Meacham puts the Cuban missile crisis in the context of Bob Dylan’s discography: If the missiles had flown, he notes, it’s possible that “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” “would be the last song Dylan would ever write."

Not in the musicological class of Alan Lomax or at the historical heights of David Hackett Fischer’s Liberty and Freedom, but worthy reading for the anthemically minded.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-13295-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 6, 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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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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