Beautifully focused and composed.

A tidy, methodical look into some of the perilous expeditions to the Arctic, especially S.A. Andrée’s ill-fated hydrogen-balloon expedition of 1897.

New Yorker writer Wilkinson (The Protest Singer, 2009, etc.) fixes on the explorers who set out with megalomaniacal intent in search of a Northwest Passage through the pitiless frigid northern regions, such as Henry Hudson, Sir John Franklin, Fridtjof Nansen and Adolphus Greely. When Swedish patent officer and engineer Andrée first proposed his plan to reach the North Pole by hydrogen balloon, the legendary American explorer Greely denounced the proposal as not viable. In fact, Andrée believed the Arctic ideal for aircraft travel, rather than sledge, which only ran into icy impediments. He proposed taking only two other men up in the balloon, steered by guide ropes and sails and bearing many innovations, and underwritten by Alfred Nobel and the king. Liftoff from Dane’s Island had to be postponed a year because of unfavorable winds, but the balloon finally took off July 11, 1897, intending to reach the North Pole in three days. Once it vanished from sight, however, it took 33 years to learn more or less what happened to the men; the discovery in 1930 of their remains and diaries reveals that they did not reach the pole, but wrecked on land and died of exhaustion and cold as the winter set in. Wilkinson, ever elegant and thorough, fleshes out his account by delineating the previous expeditions of Greely and Nansen in order to get at the motivations in the minds of this “parade of fanatics heading for the deep places.”

Beautifully focused and composed.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59480-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011


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


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

Close Quickview