Many books discuss Lincoln and abolition, but this is among the best.

THE CROOKED PATH TO ABOLITION

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE ANTISLAVERY CONSTITUTION

A superb analysis of how the Constitution influenced the battle over slavery.

Although the Constitution is widely considered a sacred document, legal scholars disagree on what the various clauses mean, and activists denounce it as flawed by shameful racist compromises. Oakes agrees that the Founding Fathers did indeed compromise. However, he demonstrates that the end result was so sloppy that, before the Civil War, slavery supporters could claim that it protected their institution, and abolitionists had no doubt that it didn’t. For example, the Fifth Amendment states that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. The Constitution refers to slaves as “persons,” but only abolitionists believed it. “Nowhere,” writes the author, “does the Constitution state that Congress cannot ‘interfere’ with slavery or abolition in a state, yet it was widely agreed that it could not.” The Constitution never mentions a right of “property in man” despite the assertion by Chief Justice Robert Taney in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that it does. Thus, the heated debate over slavery referred to principles absent from the text. Depending on one’s view, there existed a pro-slavery Constitution and an anti-slavery Constitution. Despite a lifelong dislike of slavery, Lincoln gets low marks from activists for his statements on racial equality, but he was a practical politician who needed to appeal to a Republican Party that contained members who were “thoroughgoing racial egalitarians.” “Others were unabashed racists in a way that Lincoln never was,” writes Oakes, who parses a complex topic with an impressive combination of deep insight and concision. Pressured during the famous 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, who claimed that Lincoln was “an advocate for racial ‘amalgamation,’ ” he backpedaled. Other scholars fault him for keeping abolitionists at arm’s length and look down their noses at the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed few slaves. However, Oakes persuasively shows how, from the moment Lincoln assumed office, he made it clear by both rhetoric and action that slavery was doomed.

Many books discuss Lincoln and abolition, but this is among the best.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00585-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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...

NIGHT

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

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A PROMISED LAND

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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