Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle...

READING THE ROCKS

HOW VICTORIAN GEOLOGISTS DISCOVERED THE SECRET OF LIFE

The word “scientist” is Georgian, but the scientific habit of mind is Victorian—and quite British, as this popular history ably shows.

Award-winning biographer Maddox (Freud’s Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis, 2007, etc.) nicely blends literary and scientific biography in this study of 19th-century British geology and its practitioners, some of them poets as well as naturalists. Against the modern backdrop of evolution denial and the 6,000-year-old Earth, Maddox notes that the science had “been introduced at Oxford expressly in order to prepare the many students about to enter the Church to defend religion against science.” Indeed, she adds, some of the foremost early British geologists were clerics, not least among them Charles Darwin. The revolutionary central ideas about the Earth that Charles Lyell, James Hutton, Mary Anning, Louis Agassiz, and other early scientists formulated or added ammunition to were not just that Earth was unfathomably old, and far older than the biblical genealogy of Archbishop James Ussher—the one creationists now follow—could permit, but also that “all matter is atomic” and that all things evolve through processes of natural selection. Reading the rocks, as Maddox’s title would have it, reveals as much, but geology also gave material support and inspiration to scientists in other areas, including Darwin. Writing in accessible if sometimes overly dutiful prose, the author observes that the rise of these sciences helped bring the Romantic era to an end, for “no one cared about an individual perception but rather knowledge that could be exchanged as data and, as in scientific practice, duplicated and replicated.”

Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle introduction to early modern natural history, one of the last eras in which a gentleman (or gentlewoman) scholar might ever hope to have a solid grasp of every branch of science.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-912-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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