A keen, compassionate understanding of the era.



They didn’t emerge full-blown from the prissy head of history: The values we now associate with the Victorians were formed by the experiences, mores and manners of their immediate ancestors.

Wilson (The Triumph of Laughter: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press, 2005, not reviewed) makes his case by examining British daily life during the years from the French Revolution to the coronation of Victoria. Apart from passing allusions to Newt Gingrich and a “moral majority,” his engaging account makes few connections to contemporary events, but the parallels are nonetheless evident. The British had long been a rowdy people and proud of it, but war with France and fear of revolution made them nervous and led to restrictions on personal liberty. Crime in the streets, partying in the public gardens and raucousness in the alehouses were denounced by charismatic evangelists who fomented “reforms” of all sorts during the years of concern. Their efforts, of course, began with the poor—as Mark Twain once observed, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” Benevolent societies were founded and energized. In 1802, the Society for the Suppression of Vice began its noisy but ineffectual tenure. By the time Victoria was enthroned, a variety of social and economic forces had indeed tamed the British. For the first time, in its history London had a police force; the naughty Lord Byron (who makes multiple, always entertaining appearances here) was dead and Thomas Bowdler had completed his puritanical pruning of Shakespeare. Wilson ends generously, claiming the Brits did not really abandon all their dark ways when the Victorians turned on the lights.

A keen, compassionate understanding of the era.

Pub Date: March 19, 2007

ISBN: 1-59420-116-1

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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