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 20, 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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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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