A chronicle of a rare and radiant victory by our better angels. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)




A late-18th-century band of abolitionists in England begins the movement that will eventually free nearly one million slaves across the British Empire—and show the world that idealism and a passion for human rights can fill the sails of the ship of state.

Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, 1998, etc.) has crafted a powerfully inspiring tale of how a few—a persistent few—can eventually convince the many to question their most fundamental beliefs. In May 1787, a dozen men, mostly Quakers, met in London to discuss ways they might bring about the end of England’s involvement in the slave trade. Among them was Thomas Clarkson (the only one to live long enough to see the deferred dream realized), an indefatigable, creative advocate for human rights. The author says Clarkson has been neglected by history, but he emerges here as a moral warrior of the highest rank. Hochschild demonstrates persuasively that Clarkson and his followers (who eventually numbered in the hundreds of thousands) created and employed techniques for public persuasion still common today: boycotting, petitioning, direct-mail fund-raising. These men, though impelled by moral motives, argued the economic case for abolition, as well, this back in a time when slavery was a pervasive feature of life on every continent, and people questioned the practice no more than we question our use of automobiles. One of Hochschild’s great strengths, indeed, is his ability to get inside the 18th-century mind and show how our ancestors’ assumptions parallel our own. Personal histories of the principals (William Wilberforce, James Stephen, John Newton) have their place, and Hochschild explains how geopolitical forces, especially England’s bitter rivalry with France, affected the movement. Some of the details about conditions on slave ships, including the brutalities of repression and retribution, are painful to read.

A chronicle of a rare and radiant victory by our better angels. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-10469-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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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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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

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