A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.



The story of two British aristocrats who aimed to change their world.

TV producer Welfare creates a vibrant portrait of British society through his animated, well-informed dual biography of John Gordon (1847-1934) and his wife, Ishbel (1857-1939), the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who were his wife’s great-grandparents. Drawing on copious family papers—letters, diaries, rent books, financial ledgers—as well as the couple’s joint memoir, Welfare follows the peripatetic lives of John and Ishbel, famous among their incredulous peers for their devotion to social reform. Luminaries of high society—the Archbishop of Canterbury, members of the royal family, and even Queen Victoria herself were among their many guests—they spared no expense on their reform efforts. Even cruising the Nile River on their honeymoon, they set up “impromptu clinics” to address dire health needs: “the first of countless enlightened, innovative, and often expensive ways in which, over nearly sixty years, Johnny and Ishbel worked to improve social conditions wherever they went. And they cared not a hoot if they risked the contempt of their peers by taking their campaigns to the slum dwellers.” Welfare unfolds his narrative by focusing on the grand houses in which Lord and Lady Aberdeen lived in London, Ireland, Canada, and Scotland. Just outside Aberdeen, Ishbel founded the Haddo House Association, which “acted as a virtual school, allowing housemaids and cooks to study at home in their quarters or in the servants’ hall,” with local ladies “cajoled into acting as tutors.” In Canada, she established the Victorian Order of Nurses to attend to medical needs in remote areas. Her campaign to address the spread of tuberculosis in Ireland earned her the derisive nickname “Viceregal Microbe.” As the author demonstrates in this fluid narrative, the couple persisted in their charitable projects even when house expenses, travel, failure of several Canadian ranches, and years of generous hospitality brought them to the brink of bankruptcy.

A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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