Wroe, who studied medieval history at Oxford and is now the American editor of the Economist, uses a real-life 14th-century mystery as a ``springboard'' for an intimate, well-crafted profile of late medieval life in the town of Rodez in southwest France. In 1369 or 1370, a somewhat down-and-out man named Peyre Marques of Rodez calls in masons to investigate a blocked drain in his house. They soon get to the root of the problem: an impacted jug filled with gold coins, which is claimed by Marques's brother- in-law. To whom do the jug and the gold treasure really belong? Wroe doesn't solve the mystery, but she reveals much about life in Rodez. Actually, Rodez is comprised of two towns: the City, with its imposing cathedral and clerical domination, and the Burg, with its entrepreneurial hustle and bustle. One is allied with England, the other with France, and their officials compete fiercely in collecting taxes and fees on everything from meat to funerals. Basing her work on a trove of town documents in Latin and Occitan (a mixture of French and Catalan), Wroe uncovers aspects of daily life that seem astonishingly contemporary. Think the O.J. trial has dragged on? In Rodez, a trial over a case of suspected arson still was being litigated 50 years after the incident occurred. Think heartlessness towards the homeless is new? In 1375, the French town's council resolved that ``there should be a very strict watch day and night and . . . poor men who are already here should be thrown out.'' And for all the Middle Ages' reputation for religiosity, Wroe reveals the dark underside of the Church. She might have, however, provided more political and socioeconomic background on the world beyond Rodez and maps locating Rodez in France and depicting the town itself. These small flaws aside, this is an equally informative and entertaining work, one that will be a delight not only to medievalists, but to all who wish a respite from the pace, technology, and other perplexities of contemporary life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8090-4595-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1995

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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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