EAST OF THE SUN

THE EPIC CONQUEST AND TRAGIC HISTORY OF SIBERIA

Well-written, vastly informative history of a largely unknown land, by Bobrick (Fearful Majesty, 1987). Bobrick chronicles a Wild West show played out on the ice and tundra that began with raids by outlaw Cossacks in 1581. By the early 18th century, Russia was bringing the territory under control, setting the stage for Vitus Bering's famous explorations, which culminated in the acquisition of Alaska. Bobrick's descriptions of Bering's unthinkably huge expeditions driving across the ice, through the Aleutians to Alaska, with their doctors, scientists, writers, philosophers—and near-starvation and disasters—come off like a nightmarishly hallucinogenic version of Lewis and Clarke. His depiction of local culture is sophisticated and detailed: ``Among the Chukchi there was no term for `girl' at all, but only for `married woman,' `woman living alone,' and `woman not yet put in use.' '' The author masterfully conveys the waves of immigration and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, an achievement on a par with the building of the Panama Canal. Brutality is a constant: The discovery and extermination of the Aleuts are no more horrible than the civil war unleashed after WW I, with psychopathic brigands on one side, possessed zealots on the other. In the background are the prison camps, created by the czars ten years after the 16th-century Cossack invasion, carried forward for profit by Stalin. Powerful and moving—it's difficult to imagine a book that could say much more about Siberia, or say it better. (Sixteen pages of b&w illustrations, maps—not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-66755-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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