Strictly for those who like their murder mysteries ancient and peopled by aristocrats.


Entertaining royal historian Weir (Henry VIII: The King and His Court, 2002, etc.) falters with a dull attempt to discover who ordered the death of Mary Stuart’s husband in 1567.

At the time, it was widely assumed that Mary was complicit in the killing, which rid her of a detested, politically maladroit spouse and cleared the way for marriage to her lover, the Earl of Bothwell. Not so, declares Weir, naming as the prime instigators Mary’s Secretary of State, William Maitland, and her half-brother the Earl of Moray, bastard son of Scotland’s James V. Aided by much of Scotland’s Protestant nobility, they lured Bothwell into the murder plot, she asserts, planning to make him the scapegoat, to discredit Mary and force her to abdicate so they could become the powers behind the throne of her infant son James. This is plausible, but Weir’s primary goal is to clear Mary of any involvement. Examining the documentary evidence in stupefying detail, she dismisses the notorious Casket Letters, which seemed to prove Mary’s guilt, as combinations of forgery and alterations to existing letters; this argument is considerably more convincing than her denial that Mary and Bothwell were lovers before Darnley’s death. Weir’s own narrative shows Mary well aware that some threat to her husband was afoot and doing little to forestall it. We observe throughout that the Queen of Scots was a lousy politician with remarkably poor judgment, in striking contrast to England’s Queen Elizabeth, who played the messy Scottish scandal to her advantage. (Mary wound up imprisoned in England and was executed in 1587 for conspiring against Elizabeth.) Weir assesses the possibility that Elizabeth’s secretary of state had a hand in Darnley’s murder, or at least knew who the perpetrators were, at a level of detail that would have made the whole study more readable had it been applied to the Scottish portions as well. She entirely fails to make the case that Mary was “one of the most wronged women in history.”

Strictly for those who like their murder mysteries ancient and peopled by aristocrats.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-43658-X

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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