Was the newspaper an instrument of liberation or control? Can any news be trusted? Is the free flow of information essential...



From imperial messenger and town crier to Citizen Kane: a vigorous history of the rise of the news business.

Who needs news, anyway? Well, writes Pettegree (Modern History/Univ. of St. Andrews; The Book in the Renaissance, 2010, etc.), first there is the potentate, who needs to know the doings in the far corners of the realm. Then there’s the merchant, who needs to know conditions in distant markets, the better to buy low and sell high. The author first examines such fledgling news enterprises as the couriers of European rulers and entrepreneurs, who, it can be surmised, were not always trustworthy, given the advantage they found in controlling what news was released and when. He then turns to such pioneers as the curious (in both senses) Cologne burger Herman Weinsberg, who kept dossiers on his relatives and neighbors: “It was only after his death that his appalled family members discovered that he had memorialised all their doings in an expansive chronicle of their lives and times.” Weinsberg also gathered accounts of political events, noting the importance of what emerged as a significant theme in Pettegree’s book: the integrity of the teller. The author takes a refreshingly broad view of what constitutes journalism—he includes medieval balladeers in the mix, for “singing ballads was a powerful part of information culture”—and of the genealogy of problems that any old-school newspaperperson will recognize: from the proper balance of ads to editorial copy to making decisions on what to run and what to spike and, as always, reaching audiences whose members might not always have appreciated that they needed the news that was on offer.

Was the newspaper an instrument of liberation or control? Can any news be trusted? Is the free flow of information essential to a democracy? Learned and well-written, Pettegree’s book ventures fruitful answers.

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-17908-8

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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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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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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