A pleasure for students of exploration, as well as for armchair travelers.



A vigorous history, by a sympathetic and patient fellow traveler (Letters from Egypt, 1988, etc.), of the long-ago efforts by European explorers to reach a fabled African city.

It’s still not the easiest thing to reach Timbuktu, out on a bend of the Niger River in the Malian desert. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans wanting to find the city, whose existence was barely a rumor to them, and to open up the Sahara to their trade faced more obstacles still: a lack of reliable maps; an Ottoman Empire to the east that instructed the Muslim faithful that allowing Europeans to pass by “is betraying your Sovereign (the Ottoman Emperor), your religion, and every Mahometan”; actively hostile populations fearing the presence among them of possible slavers and spies; Bedouin and Tuareg bands only too glad to rob and kill, and more, all on top of the inclement natural conditions and lack of amenities. Undeterred, the great botanist Joseph Banks gathered fellow scientists, scholars, and explorers to found a private group called the African Association, which would sponsor expeditions and, at the same time, work to abolish the slave trade. Its founding and first-generation members numbered some astonishingly accomplished men, among them Banks himself, the navigator John Ledyard (“independent America’s first explorer”), the young soldier Daniel Houghton, the gloriously named Scottish traveler Mungo Park. Later generations of African Association members were no less well credentialed, and many of them suffered enormously to accumulate bits and pieces of knowledge about the Niger River and the way to the African desert interior. Sattin’s anecdote-laced tales of their likes, and of the deeds and misadventures of dimly remembered men such as Swiss-born Jean Louis Burckhardt (who sagely remarked, “It is a less fatiguing duty to perform travels than to write them down”) and Gordon Laing (the first European known to have entered Timbuktu), are wholly memorable and, overall, offer fitting tribute to the work of the African Association in all its multifaceted glory.

A pleasure for students of exploration, as well as for armchair travelers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-33643-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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