Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”



How 500 years of European rule in the Caribbean helped determine the patterns of “human malfeasance” repeated globally to the present day.

In an ambitious work bringing together fragmented histories of more than 20 different islands across an area of 3,000 miles, journalist Gibson, a scholar of the Spanish Caribbean trained at Cambridge University, finds in the unifying theme of a colonial heritage the sobering legacy of exploitation, greed and inequality. A drive for “grain, gold and God” seized the first Portuguese explorers, while Christopher Columbus, infused in the work of Marco Polo, was so certain that he could navigate a passage to the East that when he landed at “San Salvador,” he was sure he had struck Polo’s Cipango—Japan. Yet this was not a land of Oriental splendor but rather islands occupied by humble indigenous peoples; nonetheless, “desire would triumph over reason,” which became a recurrent theme for hundreds of years. Sugar production—rendered profitable by the Portuguese and Genoese on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Canaries—was quickly established in these new colonies of the West Indies, along with tobacco, salt, coffee, cacao and, later, cotton. The distinctive and organized indigenous people were enslaved, killed by new diseases or converted, and new plants and animals were introduced, including farm animals, grapes and wheat (in addition to all manner of insects and microbes). A globalized factory system was thus put into place on Hispaniola, Cuba, Barbados and elsewhere, and the use of indentured servants was discarded in favor of African slaves. The hunger for luxury goods created a “growing global commodity chain” that would define the region, spurring world warfare and revolution once inequality between the haves and have-nots grew unsustainable. Bolstered by her travel experiences in St. Martin, Trinidad, Guyana and other places, Gibson delivers a useful, manageable history of the region.

Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2614-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?