A fine history of the first phase of the nation’s most enduring moral reform effort.



A well-respected scholar of racial issues in 19th-century America offers a history of “the first civil rights revolution.”

Masur, a professor of history at Northwestern, chronicles the efforts by Black and White Americans, from the Revolution through the 1870s, to end slavery and racial discrimination. Following An Example for All the Land (2010), which looked at Reconstruction in Washington, D.C., the author expands her study to the entire U.S. She introduces a broad coalition of people, with women and African Americans as much in the forefront as White males, who, working to capture political force, eventually gained their victory through the young Republican Party. Though Masur focuses on the Old Northwest, she does not exclude major nodes of activism such as Missouri and Massachusetts. Her major interpretive innovation is to locate the roots of the legal fetters on Black Americans not just in slavery, but also in enduring Colonial laws regarding poverty, vagrancy, and local taxes. The prejudice hidden under the cover of local ordinance proved to be as difficult to overcome as White Americans’ heedlessness toward their Black neighbors. Facing such realities, reformers used petitions, court suits, and political action to gain their objectives through a bloody civil conflict and passage of the 14th Amendment. Masur fittingly closes with a sobering lesson for today—i.e., that the gains of constitutionalized manumission and equal rights were reversed by the Supreme Court starting in 1873 and ending in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. It required a second civil rights movement decades later to reignite Americans to further work. The author could have provided more on the role of religion in awakening Americans to racial injustices as well as on the general context of social reform in antebellum America. Nonetheless, her book joins Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause (2016) in providing authoritative historical coverage of its subject.

A fine history of the first phase of the nation’s most enduring moral reform effort.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00593-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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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