FINS DE SIÈCLE

HOW CENTURIES END, 1400-2000

A fascinating and generally informative romp through the closing decades of each of the past five centuries and our own. Briggs, a veteran academic historian, and Snowman, a former BBC producer and the author of works on social and cultural history, have recruited five British colleagues (their book originated as a BBC series) to cover the political, social, economic, and cultural elements of life in Great Britain at each century's end. (Unfortunately, there is next to nothing on the rest of the world.) The best chapter by far is Peter Earle's ``Finance, Fashion, and Frivolity,'' on the 1690s, a bustling, hustling decade that (rather like the 1980s) was characterized by the ``praise of luxuries and prodigality'' and that witnessed the introduction of lotteries, the beginning of modern statistics, the creation of the London stock exchange, and the invention of the ``easy chair.'' The weakest chapter is Briggs's, on the 1990s. He spends too much time on British politics, and on a rather tedious response to Francis Fukuyama's already-dated 1989 essay ``The End of History,'' so that such important late-20th-century developments as the recrudescence of feminism receive short shrift. In fairness however, it should be added that Briggs does contribute a superb perspective on late Victorianism in his chapter on the 1890s. Because these chapters are meant to provide a broad overview, much is, of necessity, left out. For example, while Roy Porter's review of the 1790s includes a good discussion of the impact of the French Revolution on England (particularly on writers and philosophers), the reader learns almost nothing about the effects on Britain of the loss of the American colonies. This is, nonetheless, a consistently well-written, assured work, offering a lively popular history greatly enhanced by over 100 illustrations (33 in color).

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-300-06687-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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