Mayer claims to “brush history against the grain”—in fact, he succeeds mostly in brushing against the facts.



An analysis of the “furies” (both left and right) of the French and Russian Revolutions that gets lost in a time warp.

Princeton historian Mayer (The Persistence of the Old Regime, 1981) sets out to show that there is no revolution without violence, terror, and war; that there can be no revolution without counterrevolution; and that revolutions, bad as they may be, are no worse than the unjust social orders that invariably precede them. The last point is Mayer’s most novel idea, but he never really proves it (and to the extent that he tries, he gets himself into hot water—arguing, for example, that the concentration camps of the Soviet Union were a reflection of “the dead hand of Russia's past”). He also develops another interesting idea, claiming that religious conflict was an important revolutionary force in both events; the Protestants were ranged against the Catholics in France, while the Jews in Russia were opposed by the White forces (who made good use of anti-Semitism in compensating for an unappealing political ideology). But when Mayer argues that “in the long run revolutionary situations benefit oppressed . . . religious minorities,” one wonders how he differentiates the subsequent travails of Jews in the Soviet Union. Similarly, his argument that Lenin did not encourage excesses and did not “instrumentalize” anticlericalism until 1918 runs up against the evidence of recently disclosed documents in which Lenin orders subordinates to shoot priests publicly. Mayer then argues that, in the short run, collectivization failed to remedy the chronic ills of agricultural production—which implies the truly novel conclusion that it did so in the long run. Finally, Mayer gives a reprise of the notion that Stalin might have permitted democracy in Eastern Europe if it hadn't been for the “perception” that somehow “took hold” that he intended to treat them like vassal states.

Mayer claims to “brush history against the grain”—in fact, he succeeds mostly in brushing against the facts.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-691-04897-5

Page Count: 700

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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