Colorful enthusiasm draped over a thorough treatment of Arctic exploration.



A boisterous survey of those answering the Siren call of the North Pole.

Troubetzkoy (A Brief History of the Crimean War, 2006, etc.) proceeds roughly chronologically as he follows dozens of explorers making their way to the Arctic in search of fame, fortune, discovery, adventure or territory. He starts with the Greek Pytheas, who claimed to have gazed upon Ultima Thule in 325 BCE, though the only account burned with the Library of Alexandria. The author tenders much cultural, historical, political and geographical detail, but not at the expense of drama, romance and manliness. Of the Vikings: “Drink, women, and song were embraced with the same fervor as war, pillage, and slaughter.” Of Dutch navigator William Barents: “One wonders at the mould from which these early Arctic intrepids were formed—exceptional people they were.” Then there was Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen sleeping off the Arctic night: “We carried this art to a high pitch of perfection…sometimes as much as 20 hours’ sleep in 24.” Troubetzkoy makes excellent use of diaries and notebooks to convey period flavor and a sense of immediacy, as well as to showcase some dazzling writing, of which George Kennan’s description of the aurora borealis is a real gem. But the author wisely lets the extraordinary adventures speak for themselves, ushering along Sebastian Cabot seeking a northeast trade route to Cathay and Martin Frobisher looking to the northwest. There are the great tragedies of Henry Hudson, John Franklin, Jens Munk and a worshipful company of others, as well as the endless, ruinous attempts to discover a Northwest Passage. Troubetzkoy also intelligently discusses the effects of global warming on the fauna and flora, as well as modernization on the indigenous peoples. Bickering over mineral and oil rights is now standard fare at international conferences.

Colorful enthusiasm draped over a thorough treatment of Arctic exploration.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-62503-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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