BIRTH OF A NATION: 1894-1994

A spectacular, startling, and sometimes downright grisly chronicle, in words and pictures, of a bloody and tumultuous period. Alongside a stunning battery of photographs scoured from archives and collections throughout the former Soviet empire, the vast majority of them unfamiliar, Moynahan (Comrades, 1992) unfolds a history short on depth but told in crisp, imagistic (not to say strongly opinionated) prose. To his great credit, he persistently strives to include not only the obvious historical milestones— wars, revolutions, terror, famine, and the like (every horseman of the apocalypse gallops across the tortured steppes)—but also some sense of the evolving everyday sensory and emotional realities of Russian life under czar, dictator, and infant democracy. In this, he's not only immeasurably aided but inevitably outshone by the pageant of superbly reproduced photographs to which every reader will be immediately drawn and which, highlighting the human figure at the expense of landscape, run the gamut from imperial family portraits and staged Party propaganda scenes to snatched samizdat documents of ghetto and gulag, to the innovative high art of Rodchenko. Behind the familiar official faces of the masters- -Rasputin's manic stare, Trotsky's compelling gaze, Stalin's sly squint, Yeltsin's pugnacious querulousness—and the distortions of official history, both amply evidenced here, the photos unearth a vast parade of their nameless subjects (and, more often then not, victims)—``ordinary'' workers, peasants, soldiers, priests, shopkeepers. Too often it's a gallery of the unquiet dead: These pages are as corpse-strewn as the history they record—slain in purges, pogroms, insurrections, invasions, by starvation or single bullet, piled high by roadsides, dumped into mass graves, even, most shockingly and indelibly, filleted on the dining table of famine-stricken peasants driven to cannibalism. No mere coffee-table ornament, but a historical document of great drama and unusual intensity.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-42075-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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