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Showing 1-10 of 6,876 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 9,968 reviews
on February 2, 2016
My first time reading this book at 43 years of age, just finished but moments ago, the character voices remain still, lingering in my thoughts and my consciousness as I write this review. And all I can say is...I get it. Now I know why I have heard about this book my entire life. Now I know why it is a classic. I could give you a long, overly-intellectualized review so that you imagine me sitting in a coffee house with a cool name like "Mad Goat" with a soy drink in one hand waxing poetic about the deep, social commentary of the time outlined so brilliantly in these pages in such a profound, simple way and how ironic it is that we still relate all these so many years later...but instead, I get it. I just...SO...get it. Read it.
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on May 10, 2017
‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.’

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is an undisputed classic that few will avoid having read in their lifetime, and those few are to be pitied. As I habe presentation of the novel coming up this weekend, a discussion group that I am lucky enough to be allowed to lead as part of the The Big Read here in Holland, Michigan, I felt it necessary to revisit this timeless classic (and I figured I’d review it to help collect my thoughts on the subject). The experience was like returning to a childhood home and finding it warm and welcoming and undisturbed from the passage of time, like walking the streets of my old neighborhood and hearing the calls of friends as they rode out with their bikes to greet me, of knowing the mailman by name and knowing where all the best places for hide-and-seek were, the best trees to climb, and feeling safe and secure in a place that is forever a part of yourself. Though some of the mechanics of the novel seemed less astonishing than my first visit more than a decade ago, the power and glory was still there, and I found a renewed love and respect for characters like Atticus, whom I’ve always kept close to heart when wrestling with my own position as a father. Harper Lee created a wonderful work that incorporated a wide range of potent themes, wrapping class systems, gender roles, Southern manners and taboos, and an important moral message of kindness, love and conviction all within a whimsical bildungsroman that no reader who has been graced by its pages will ever forget.

‘The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.’

Before dipping into the novel itself, I’d like to take a moment to speak about Atticus Finch, one of my favorite characters in all of Literature. Atticus is a pillar of morality, a man of honor, integrity, and most importantly, conviction. He is humble and honest, even admitting to his children that yes, indeed they are poor. In a novel about society, with its tumultuous mess of morals and class, Atticus is like an authorial deus ex machina, being Lee’s method of inserting moralizing and an example of what constitutes a ‘good man’ into the book through character and not authorial asides. I’ve always idolized Atticus and tried to think ‘what would Atticus do?’ when it come to being a father and undertaking difficult moral conundrums (I even named my second cat Catticus Finch). Atticus takes the unpopular position of defending a black man in a rape case when assigned to him despite the town nearly ostracizing him. Atticus does his duty, and does it well, as a man of conviction that believes in doing what is right and honorable regardless of the consequences, living up to his statement that ‘Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what’. In fact, Lee originally intended to name the novel Atticus before deciding it would stifle the broad perspective of Macomb by drawing too much attention to one character. Atticus remains steadfast throughout the novel, sure of himself and fully developed, whereas those around him undergo more a sense of change and development. This is a novel about personal growth and a broader understanding of those around you, and Atticus is the anchor to integrity and morality keeping his children centered in the violent storm of emotions and violence that befalls Macomb.

‘When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em.’

There is a childlike innocence spun through a novel of such weight and seriousness, executed brilliantly by Lee’s choice of Scout as the narrator. We are forever seeing a larger world through the eyes of a young girl still trying to find her place in it while making sense of all the hustle and bustle around her, and this creates an incredible ironic effect where there are large events going on that the reader understands but are delivered nearly through defamiliarization because the narrator cannot fully grasp them¹. The narration allows Lee to balance the coming-of-age hallmarks with the weightier themes, allowing the reader to maintain an innocence from the rape and racism while still able to make sense of the society functioning at large, and retreating from the darker themes into the fun of the children’s comings and goings. What is most impressive is how everything blends together, and the lessons learned in each aspect of their life are applied to all the other elements they come in contact with. The fates of Tom and Boo Radley are emotionally and morally linked in the readers mind, heart and soul.

All the standard bildungsroman motifs that make people love the genre are present in To Kill a Mockingbird, from schoolyard quarrels, to learning your place in society. We see Scout, Jem, and even Dill, gain a greater understanding of the world and their place in it, watch the children come to respect their father for more than just being a good father, see them make dares, terrorize the neighbors in good fun, and even stop a mob before it turns violent. With Scout, particularly, there is an element of gender identity at play that leads into a larger discussion about class and society. Children learn from those around them, and Scout spends much of the novel assessing those around her, perhaps subconsciously looking for a role model for herself. The ideas of what a good southern woman is and should be are imposed upon her throughout the town, such as Ms Dubose who criticizes her manner of dress, or Aunt Alexandra and her attempts to eradicate Scout’s tomboyish behavior, and she learns to dislike Miss Stephanie and her gossipy behavior. Miss Maudie, however, curbs gossip and insults, and puts on the face of a southern lady, but still gets down into the dirt in the garden and behaves in other, more boyish, ways that Scout identifies with. The gender identification becomes a cog in the gear of Southern tradition in manners and class. While the court case is unquestionably controversial due to the racial implications, it is also because it forces people to discuss rape and involves questioning the Word of a woman. It forces up a lot of taboo that the community is uncomfortable in being forced to deal with it, and many inevitably turn a squeamish blind eye when forced to confront the ugly truths at hand. Macomb is a society where everything and everyone has their place, a set identification, and they do not like it being disturbed. Most important to note is the correlation that the characters who are most inclined to uphold societal traditions through self-righteous brow-beatings often exhibit the most rampant racism throughout the novel.

‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

There are many ‘mockingbird’ characters in this novel, such as Tom and Boo, but the real mockingbird is, to me at least, the innocence that is lost. The town is forced to see each other for who they really are, to question their beliefs, to grow up with all the racism and bigotry going on around them. Atticus teaches Scout that we cannot know someone until ‘you consider things from his point of view’, and through the novel we see many misjudgements of character based on misunderstanding or characters refusing to see beyond their closed opinions, or even something as simple as Scout and Jem believing the rumors of Boo Radley as a bloodthirsty maniac. ‘People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.’ This applies to many obdurate aspects of society, such as Miss Maudie stating ‘sometimes the Bible in hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of-oh, your father,’ emphasizing the ways that a closed mind is just as dangerous as a violent hand and that even religion can be misused. There is a message of love, of looking into the hearts of others and not just judging them, a message of compassion and open-mindedness working through To Kill a Mockingbird, and it is a message that we all must be reminded of from time to time.

There are a few issues that arose on a re-reading of the novel, having grown myself as a reader since I first encountered this lovely book. While the moral lessons are important and timeless, there is a sense of heavy-handedness to their delivery. Particularly at the end when Sheriff Tate points out the dangers of making a hero of Boo Radley.
taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head.
This statement is quickly followed by Scout mentioning to Atticus that ‘Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?’. It seems a bit unnecessary to reiterate the point, especially when Tate’s double use of sin was enough to draw a parallel to the message earlier in the novel that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. This, I admit, is overly nitpicky but brings up a conversation about teaching this novel in schools. This book is, ideally, read at a time of the readers own coming-of-age and the connections they are sure to draw with the characters reinforce the love for the novel. It is also a time in life when you are just beginning to understand the greater worlds of literature, and overtly pointing out themes is more necessary for readers when they haven’t yet learned how to look for them properly. It is books such as this that teach us about books, and usher us into a world of reading between the lines that we hadn’t known was there before. Another quiet complaint I have with the novel that, despite the themes of racism, Calpurnia seems to be a bit of an Uncle Tom character. However, who wouldn’t want to be in service for as great of a man as Atticus, so this too can be overlooked.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel surely deserving of it’s classic status. Though it is not without its flaws, there is a timeless message of love that permeates through the novel. It is also of great importance as a book that young readers can use as a ladder towards higher literature than they had been previously exposed to. Lee has such a fluid prose that makes for excellent storytelling, especially through the coming-of-age narrative of Scout, and has a knack for creating exquisite characters that have left their immortal mark in the halls of Literature as well as the hearts of her readers.
4.5/5

‘...when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things...Atticus, he was real nice.

Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’

¹This style is reminiscent of William Faulkner, such as the court scene in Barn Burning from the detached perspective of a child. In fact, much of this novel feels indebted to Faulkner and the works of Southern Gothic authors before her, and the Tom incident and case feels familiar to those familiar with Faulkner’s Dry September or Intruder in the Dust. The way the most self-righteous and self-professed 'holy' also tend to be the basest of character morals is reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor as well. Lee’s story is fully her own, but it is always interesting to see the travels and growth of literary tradition.
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on March 27, 2017
why does amazon have me pick whether or not the plot is surprising to make any kind of review, even a star-only one. . .wtf? How is "Predictable, Some twists, or Full of surprises" a description of the plot? It doesn't even apply to a lot of the books I read. The hell man? This is only a question you ask of mystery or suspense novels.

Whatever -- Everyone knows To Kill a Mockingbird is a pretty good book. Even if people now think of Atticus as a racist -- which he is a bit, but only in the same way even the civil rights heroes before Dr. King were. Just because Huck Finn is pretty damn racist today, doesn't mean Twain wasn't a progressive. . it's just relative. You wanna talk about racism -- how the hell does anyone justify literally anything written by Lovecraft? His great idea of horror is almost always 'Mongrel' magic. Yet people insist he invented science fiction. . .*shudders*
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on June 19, 2017
I have somehow managed to avoid reading To Kill a Mockingbird my entire life. Whenever the old movie was on tv, I'd flip by it, dismissing it as 'courtroom drama'. I knew from being alive in the modern era that it was somehow about racism. Finding myself out of work with nothing better to do I decided to read books from one of those '100 Books Everyone Should Read' lists, starting with this one. I thought I'd be stuck in some period drama written in stilting, formal tones and bored to tears within the first chapter.

I was so wrong. Harper Lee is an amazing writer. Her tale of kids and their summer adventures really would have been enough. I stood in my hallway after the book downloaded & completely forgot that I was going to another room. I was completely sucked in by Scout, Jem & Dill's antics in trying to lure the elusive Boo Radley from his house. And because I fell in love with fierce little Scout I was ready to fight the townfolk myself when the controversy over her father's defense of Tom Robinson came to call on the Finch family.

Yes, it is still relevant today - town rumors and conjecture take the stage much like hysterical media does today, and injustice is served. But it's also a beautiful little vignette of summertime in a small town, a place where adventures are always there for the bold and imaginative.
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on July 23, 2015
The package was crushed. Book was ok
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on May 12, 2017
I read it in high school as an assignment and missed the voice while struggling with the plot. I wanted it plain back then. What I got the second time, fifty years later, was a voice of innocence and wonder and wisdom in a story that was far more than plot. I missed Scout and Jem the first time because I was so worried about Boo and Tom. I missed the birthing of civil rights because all I could see was a trial. Harper Lee may have had only one good story in her, but I'm grateful she told it perfectly.
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on October 16, 2013
This review is specific to the Kindle edition of the book.

It is suprisingly difficult to find critical essays on To Kill a Mockingbird. This book is a gold mine of multiple critical views, each exploring some aspect of the book. As so many of the people that scored this product with only one or two stars have stated, it is NOT the actual novel. The title should make that plain. If not, the product discription states that "Michael J. Meyer has assembled a collection of new essays that celebrate this enduring work of American literature. These essays approach the novel from educational, legal, social, and thematic perspectives." A hasty purchase without reading either the product title or the description should not translate into a low score for the product.

That said, I will be using this book for research as an M.A. Literature student and am thrilled to find such a wide variety of critical approaches in a single volume. The book is relatively current (2010) and contains fifteen critical essays grouped into four broad areas of approach.

I've just started sampling the contents, but can already say that the navigation appears to be friendly if not fantastic. The table of contents allows the various essays to be accessed directly. One excellent perk of the Kindle edition (used with the free laptop Kindle reader) is the inclusion of the specific Kindle reference information pasted directly into a Word document immediately below any cut/pasted text.

This book is primarily intended as either a research resource for college level students or by advanced readers familiar with literary criticism who wish to gain a deeper appreciation for Harper Lee's master work. In case you missed it, this is NOT the novel.
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on August 8, 2015
A timeless message. Especially in context of current events. Complexities of one's heritage and how it influences decisions despite a general strong moral character should be revisited by readers as they read Lee's Go Set a Watchman. For many it will upset their sentimental longing for the hero Attitcus. For others it will deepen their thoughts about the struggle between what is morally right and what heritage instills. Some believe this is only a Southern problem but as I observe our world I see it as a struggle all mankind faces: whether it be race, social-economic position, political leanings, religion or nationality. From my experience with living, everyone has to face they are no different from Atticus, whether they see themselves as sitting on the high end or the low: we all need to examine ourselves and ask, how are we truly treating others in our actions AND in our hearts. Only then can we be at peace with ourselves and others.
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on April 6, 2017
This book is about a simple southern family in a simple southern town. In this book, you experience courtroom drama, southern life in fictional Maycomb County, and how segregation always has consequences.
Atticus, who is a father of Jem and Scout, is an attorney that is a great father and a great shot. He believes, unlike most people in Maycomb County, that all lives matter, white or black.
Scout, a seven-year-old girl and daughter of Atticus, narrates from two perspectives: her child side and her adult side. She started off as a naive little girl, but by the end of the book, she became more aware of her surroundings. Throughout the book, she went through many heartwarming and heartbreaking experiences.
The setting is in a small southern town during the Great Depression, while segregation was at its worst, the people are divided, with blacks on one side of the town and whites on the other. Even the courtroom was segregated, where blacks could only sit in the colored balcony and where the black defendants were degraded by being called "boy."
One of the morals in this story is you can't judge a book by its cover. At first, we thought this book was going to be about killing a mockingbird, but really the title is a metaphor of what happens in the book. Another moral of the story is never let the truth be clouded by your beliefs.
Good Shepherd Middle School, Novato, CA, 7th grade class.
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on September 2, 2015
If ever there were a book I would consider voting for as the “Great American Novel”, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the one…the only one. It is hard for me to say that there is a one great anything. Times change, technology improves, and social views evolve. In short, we are never the same from one generation to the next and trying to pick anything that spans the gap and the differences as the greatest of all is difficult, if not a complete waste of time.

When it comes to literature, there are so many fine books and so many great writers that trying to narrow the selection to the “one great one” interferes with valuable reading time…generally. But then there is To Kill A Mockingbird.

Harper Lee’s story takes place in the small southern Alabama town and county of Maycomb during the depression era 1930’s. She paints a picture of the community and the people populating it through the eyes of Scout (Jean Louise Finch) the daughter of a prominent local attorney, Atticus Finch. As the book opens, Scout is preparing to begin her first year in grade school.

She and her brother Jem and friend Dill pass the summer doing the things children did before the age of video games and twenty-four hour television. They played. They entertained themselves. They went on adventures. They told stories about the frightening, recluse who lives on the corner. They were children.

They did all of this under the watchful eyes of Calpurnia, the black woman who is housekeeper and surrogate mother to the family. Scout describes her as “all angles and bone…with a hand as wide as a bed slat and twice as hard…”

In the Finch household, Cal is treated as an equal, a partner in the upbringing of the children and an indispensable member of the family. That is in the Finch household. Outside their small world, things are different in the community of Maycomb.

I find Calpurnia to be one of the most interesting of characters in the story. She is a strong and independent black woman who makes her way in the world dominated by whites. Scout is amazed on one occasion when visiting at Cal’s church that she spoke differently to other blacks, using their particular colloquialisms and dialect. It was very different from the way she spoke with Scout and Jem in the Finch home. Scout had no idea that Calpurnia lived this “double life” relating differently to the two cultures in Maycomb.

In short, racial prejudice reigns, as was common in the time. Blacks, Negroes as polite members of the community called African Americans in that day, are second-class citizens with a place in the universe of Maycomb that is always inferior to the whites. Even the most white-trashy, ignorant, slovenly of whites holds a place in the community superior to any of the blacks.

As a southerner who grew up in the south in the 1950s, I remember the “Jim Crowe” days. I went to schools that were not desegregated. I saw white only water fountains and restrooms. Black children were to be treated kindly, but we did not associate as a rule. They had their world. We had ours.

As Scout paints a picture of Maycomb through the experiences she shares with Jem and Dill, it begins as a sort of “Mayberry-esque”, idyllic memoir of her childhood. But events open her eyes to the underlying darkness of their culture. Maycomb is not the perfect little world she thought.

She is guided by her father, Atticus, through the twisting cultural maze she inhabits. He teaches her not to judge others, but to get in their shoes and walk around a while to see how the world looks from their perspective. Most importantly, never kill a mockingbird because all they do is sing and bring happiness without harming anyone else. Atticus is the rock in Scout's world, giving her rope to explore and float about on the sea, but always there to anchor her safely.

Brother Jem (short for Jeremy) and friend Dill are her conscience and mentors in a way. Dill, rambunctious but sensitive, opens her eyes to things she had missed in their small community. Jem, sees and struggles with the contradictions around them...white people they have known all their lives as good people, doing things and saying things that they know to be wrong.

Through her innocence and confused effort to understand what is happening around her, we see that things are socially complicated. Whites harboring racial prejudice are not all evil as Scout describes their interactions. Instead, you get the feeling that they are ignorant, not seeing the contradictions in their lives, one instant treating a black member of the community in a courteous friendly manner, the next making sure they understand their place in the community…second class.

Some, however, are evil. The Ewells are the evilest of them all. Their conflict with Atticus and his defense of a black man, Tom Robinson, accused but innocent of a terrible crime leads to a chilling climax in the concluding chapters.

In the event that there is someone who has not read the book or seen the movie, I will not include any plot spoilers here. Just know that it is a gripping story with a conclusion that keeps you on the edge of your seat before Lee allows you to take a breath in the final chapter.

The prose is superb. The story is engaging and riveting. There are moments that will make you smile, others that will make you angry and some that might bring tears to your eyes.

Most of all, Harper Lee’s use of a little girl, Scout, to bring the narrative to life is masterful. It is not a children’s book, but through the eyes of a child, we see ourselves and the world around us. For me, that is why To Kill A Mockingbird is the great American novel. It spans the gap of generations, and through Scout’s eyes, looks into our soul.
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