A vivid, thoughtful, and blessedly concise account of one of history’s signal events.

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WATERLOO

JUNE 18, 1815: THE BATTLE FOR MODERN EUROPE

A deceptively slender, richly nuanced overview of the battle that, suggests British historian Roberts (Napoleon and Wellington, 2002, etc.), marks the beginning of the modern era.

Though it took place well into the 19th century, Waterloo “was nonetheless an eighteenth-century phenomenon,” Roberts writes—and not only in its deployment of brilliantly outfitted men in straight, easy-to-mow-down lines across wide fields of fire. It was resolutely modern, though, in its scale: Waterloo involved perhaps half a million soldiers distributed among the armies of France, England, Prussia, and lesser principalities and territories, and Napoleon Bonaparte seems to have nursed a born revolutionist’s hope that victory against his enemies would inspire the Belgians to rise against the Dutch, the French to resume control of Europe, and the Tory government of England to collapse. A reasonable desire, perhaps, but in attempting to realize it Napoleon made some curious and even “strategically inept” errors that betrayed some of his carefully pronounced principles, dividing his forces and allowing the enemy to gain control of the high ground; “the topography across which Wellington had chosen to receive Napoleon’s attacks could hardly have been better suited for infantry” against advancing artillery, cavalry, and ground forces, Roberts notes. Wellington made a few miscalculations himself. But, like Napoleon, and far from placing himself at a safe distance as some historians have maintained, Wellington was everywhere at once, keeping careful control over his side of the battle. The battle, Roberts insists, was never a foregone conclusion, and it could have turned decisively for Napoleon at many points; even in failure, had he withdrawn just a bit earlier, Napoleon might have saved some of his army and with it resisted an invasion of France itself. But he didn’t, and the carnage was fearful: taken together with satellite battles and skirmishes, Waterloo cost the lives of 120,300 men, a staggering figure that only raised the bar for subsequent slaughters.

A vivid, thoughtful, and blessedly concise account of one of history’s signal events.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-008866-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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