A revealing look at the ancient past that speaks thoughtfully to the global-warming present.



An exploration of four far-flung ancient cities, each undone by climate and politics. An alternate title for this book might be A People’s History of Urbanism. Newitz is interested in how cities form, grow, and dissipate, and the author trains their focus on how everyday lives were affected by those processes. To do that, they select a quartet of once-mighty metropolises. Catalhoyuk, located in present-day Turkey 9,000 years ago, marked humanity’s uneasy shift from farming communities to a dense city until sustained cold and drought unraveled the place. Pompeii was famously obliterated by a volcanic eruption in 79 C.E., but before it then exemplified a diverse society whose folkways survived beyond the city’s ruins. Thailand’s Angkor is known now for its majestic temples, but in the 13th century, those were just part of an agriculturally complex and sprawling region with a sophisticated infrastructure that was hard to maintain amid climate fluctuation and shaky leadership. Cahokia, located near present-day Saint Louis, was at its height (circa 1050 C.E.) an agricultural epicenter big on collective gatherings, fun and not (human sacrifices were common), until flood and drought likely took a toll. Newitz colors the narrative with accounts of personal visits to each site and interviews with the archaeologists there, many of whom debunk past scholars who looked at sites through a Western lens. (Not every naked female figurine represents a fertility goddess; not every successful society is rigidly hierarchical.) The author also attacks contemporary scholars like Jared Diamond, who argued that ancient civilizations collapse outright; more correctly, Newitz argues, multiple forces challenge and disperse communities. In an era of climate change, it’s a hearteningly un-dystopian message but still a challenge to leaders to focus on “resilient infrastructure…public plazas, domestic spaces for everyone, social mobility, and leaders who treat the city’s workers with dignity.” A revealing look at the ancient past that speaks thoughtfully to the global-warming present.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65266-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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