For fans of Laclos and De Staël, an overstuffed portrait of a long-gone era.


Wide-ranging history of a doomed generation of French aristocrats whose world would come to an end with the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Craveri, an Italian professor of French literature, opens with Saint-Beuve’s famous observation, “It is always a beautiful thing to be twenty years old.” So it is, she allows, but especially for the young generation that came up around the time of the reign of Louis XVI. Some brilliant and some merely rich idlers, the seven historical figures she portrays as representative of their class had not just wealth and nobility at their command; they also took note, to varying degrees, of the Enlightenment ideals that were springing up around them. Four of her subjects were counts, two dukes, one a mere “chevalier,” but all understood, by Craveri’s account, that the meritocratic ideal of thinkers like Diderot mattered less than the accident of their birth. Some of the author’s characters hitched their fortunes to the star that was Marie Antoinette, the “ravishing, frivolous queen.” But then, the nobility as a whole tended toward the frivolous, given to intensely public displays of consumption, campaigns of gaining royal favor, court intrigues, and the usual affairs, all expressions of what the author calls “classical libertinism.” (She adds that the habit of the extramarital affair “played the role of corrective for a matrimonial institution indifferent to the wishes of its contracting parties.”) Craveri’s narrative is long, winding, and leisurely, as the author takes her time getting to the French Revolution and the arrival of the guillotine, which took some—but not all—of the aristocrats off the stage. Indeed, there’s a hint of Balzac to the prose, which has some nice moments, as when she writes of one social climber, “Julie was too proud to submit to the logic of caste that relegated her to the margins of society.”

For fans of Laclos and De Staël, an overstuffed portrait of a long-gone era. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-340-9

Page Count: 680

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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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