Brash, breezy, and subversively irreverent: Zamoyski makes sausage out of Lafayette, Rousseau, Marx, Bolivar, and other...



A lively, witty whirlwind tour of a calamitous century when Europe and so much of the rest of the world was up in arms, from Polish historian and biographer Zamoyski (Chopin, not reviewed).

To call this maxi-history shallow seems unfair: Zamoyski’s piquant, frequently hilarious descriptions of the numerous idiots, frauds, warmongers, and hypocrites who have been lionized as 19th-century heroes zips along at roughly 50 pages per 10 years. What hobbles so much erudite razzle-dazzle is the breadth of Zamoyski’s challenge: an attempt to unify every act of political rebellion, philosophical upheaval, and cultural convulsion throughout the western world—from Poland to Haiti, from Paoli’s 1755 Corsican rebellion (misinterpreted by Rousseau as a rejection of civilization and a return to a pastoral state of “nature” when it was, in fact, precisely the opposite) to the fall of the Paris Commune. The author shows that, stripped of its mysticism and dreamy idealism, romanticism and patriotism were irrational transfers of what had previously been religious ideas about individual salvation and the divine rights of kings into myths of the noble savage and the savagely noble nation. Typically symbolized by a muscular, bosomy woman in flowing robes, Lady Liberty was no Miss Congeniality. In Poland, Spain, South America, and France, she was no better at defining freedom, defending her borders, nurturing culture, regulating trade, and managing her economic resources than the nasty old kings she replaced. In a tone that slips merrily from the darkly sarcastic to the unimpeachably wise, Zamoyski’s pursuit of unhappiness hops about capriciously, frequently changing locations, time periods, and personalities in a single paragraph. The result strongly debunks past and current notions of 19th-century freedom fighting.

Brash, breezy, and subversively irreverent: Zamoyski makes sausage out of Lafayette, Rousseau, Marx, Bolivar, and other sacred cows—exposing patriotism, romanticism, and the host of other -isms born in their time as dangerous deceptions that are not to die for. (50 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-89271-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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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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