An unfocused, repetitive account of the horrific Irish Famine (1845—50) told through newspaper articles, letters, and official documents. In the worst peacetime tragedy of 19th-century Europe, Ireland lost three million people to death and exile. The Great Irish Famine was more than a natural disaster triggered by a blight on the potato crop—it constitutes a shocking case study on the failure of British colonialism. The author exhaustively details the devastating impact of the Famine on the everyday lives of Irish families. It’s a predictably woeful tale of evictions, hunger, the poorhouse, sickness, exile, and death. Ireland’s newspapers, clergymen, and prominent citizens demanded drastic action . The British government, viewing Ireland as a colonial backwater, met the crisis with almost criminal neglect. Britain’s official adherence to doctrines of laissez-faire economics worsened the Famine, as did laws preventing Ireland from importing lower-priced foreign grain. The infamous Charles Trevelyan, secretary of the British treasury, summed up Westminster’s “hands off” attitude: “It forms no part of the functions of government to provide supplies of food.” British legislation designed to help the destitute actually encouraged landlords to evict their Irish tenants. The viceroy of Ireland, Lord Clarendon, viewed these evictions and the resulting flood of emigration as a healthy restructuring of the Irish economy: “Priests and patriots howl over the Exodus,” wrote Clarendon, “but the departure of thousands of papist Celts must be a blessing.” —’Cathaoir, an Irish Times journalist, bases the book on his popular series of weekly newspaper articles. While the diary entries work well individually, the book as a whole is disjointed, shapeless, and repetitive. What’s lacking is a consistent narrative focus or larger historical analysis to connect the scores of diary entries into a structural whole. A flawed compilation of individual episodes lacking an authorial point of view or a cohesive narrative focus, it’s bound to disappoint the general reader.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7165-2655-7

Page Count: 120

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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