A fascinating tale but, unfortunately, often in need of more graceful telling. (60 b&w illustrations, 8 pp. color...




Before the Industrial Revolution, the daily departure of the sun had effects on people far different from those we experience in our own brightly illuminated age. Why? A first-time author explains.

Here, Ekirch (History/Virginia Tech) argues—and persuasively demonstrates—that darkness in earlier eras fostered “a distinct culture with many of its own customs and rituals.” And he should know. He’s researched his subject thoroughly (the endnotes run to 109 pages), trying with moderate success to cram into categories all he’s discovered. Unquestionably, Ekirch gives us a vast number of arresting details: Earlier generations, for example, believed that noxious vapors came with night; they didn’t admire sunsets; hanging the hearts of pigs over the hearth kept demons out of the chimney; humans have better night vision than most other animals; Pepys’ wife (worried about his carnal dreams) would periodically inspect his penis during his sleep; and some early thinkers believed sleep was caused by fumes rising to the brain from the belly of the sleeper. But there are also a number of observations that seem too patent for the attention Ekirch gives them. He tells us that dark was more dangerous than light, that the night facilitated storytelling, that people drank a lot, that lovers and criminals used the cover of darkness, that some people had bad dreams, that bundling was fun, that chamber pots could smell bad. Nonetheless, he’s done a creditable job of cataloguing the activities of the night—from nightwatching (a profession, he quips, probably older than prostitution) to enjoying masquerades to dung-burning to praying. He shows, too, that informal youth gangs sometimes ruled the dark streets in A Clockwork Orange fashion, and he reveals that sleeping the entire night through was a rarity in an earlier age. Too many potential dangers (fire!), suspicious sounds, foul odors, strange bedfellows and inconsistent diets routinely ruined rest.

A fascinating tale but, unfortunately, often in need of more graceful telling. (60 b&w illustrations, 8 pp. color illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-05089-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet