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 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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