An enjoyable tour with a genial, informed, devoted docent.



A nostalgic account of life at English country houses during the interbellum era.

Tinniswood, who has written frequently about English cultural history—from pirates (Pirates of Barbary, 2010) to architecture (The Arts and Crafts House, 1999)—returns with a richly researched story about the rise and fall and transformation of country-house living, the effects on same of World War I and the arrival of World War II, and numerous other aspects of the phenomenon. In each chapter the author focuses on a different perspective: the emergence of the country house, country-house living of the royals, various restorations of some places that date back to the Elizabethan era, the arrival of moneyed Americans, upstairs/downstairs stuff, and the changes wrought by more bohemian occupants. Tinniswood teaches us about shooting, hunting, tennis, and golf (some owners built links on their grounds). We learn a lot about the designers, remodelers, occupants, and sales and purchases as well as the endless array of names of these places: Castle Drogo, Gladstone Park, and the like. The author does not suggest that there is anything untoward about any of this vast wealth in the midst of vast poverty, probably calculating that this is the sort of text that will appeal to the myriad viewers of Downton Abbey. Tinniswood includes plenty of engaging details and amusing anecdotes—e.g., one owner’s idea for stringing electrical wires: “they prized up a floorboard at one end and dropped a dead rabbit into the void; then they prized up a floorboard at the other end and unleashed a ferret, with a string tied to his collar. When the ferret had managed to negotiate the joists and reach the rabbit, the string was used to pull through a cable and, hey, presto! The problem was solved.” Although there are many pictures and illustrations throughout, readers will surely wish for more images of these remarkable dwellings.

An enjoyable tour with a genial, informed, devoted docent.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-04898-4

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.


A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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