In many ways as relevant as the day it was written and great fun to read.



A shrewd, on-the-ground account of how political change is made—and unmade—by the author of Democracy in America.

Never published in de Tocqueville’s lifetime (1805-1859), his reflections on the collapse of Louis-Philippe’s constitutional monarchy and its aftermath are notable for brutally frank portraits of allies and enemies alike in the struggle to define the Second Republic. The author was staunchly opposed to the socialists who strove to push the new republic to the left, but he was well aware of the weaknesses of those who shared his moderate views. His chronicle of the constitutional commission’s meetings acidly depicts his fellow members as schemers, ideologues, and self-serving bureaucrats incapable of fashioning a workable government. Nonetheless, he discounted the threat of further unrest. “When people claim that nothing is safe from revolution,” he writes, “I say they are wrong: centralization is safe. In France…the one institution we cannot destroy is centralization.” The book is chock-full of such astute observations, which make it valuable reading for any serious student of government. (It is, however, appropriately published by a university press, since anyone unfamiliar with the details of 19th-century French history will be flipping frequently to the Chronology at the front and the Biographical Dictionary at the back.) Adding to its value, the author is seemingly incapable of writing a dull sentence, and he is a master of the cool put-down. Of his pious, family-centered sister-in-law, he writes, “one could not hope to meet a more decent woman or a worse citizen.” Running into two politicians who had contributed to Louis-Philippe’s downfall but were alarmed by the violent demonstrations that accompanied it, he sneers, “never have victors looked more like men about to be hanged.” Although colored by the desire to justify his stint as foreign minister in 1849, his text remains perceptive as it leads up to the coup that launched the Second Empire and ended his political career.

In many ways as relevant as the day it was written and great fun to read.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8139-3901-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Univ. of Virginia

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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