The real value of this work is in the recounting of the ends of two classes, the lower and the very upper.

BLACK DIAMONDS

THE DOWNFALL OF AN ARISTOCRATIC DYNASTY AND THE FIFTY YEARS THAT CHANGED ENGLAND

TV producer and director Bailey (The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery, 2012) uses the downfall of the Fitzwilliam family to examine the history of the coal industry in England.

The author’s remarkable story primarily covers the time of the seventh Earl of Fitzwilliam, who inherited the title in 1902. She shows how class differences and the effect of two wars, strikes and the final blow of the postwar Labour government brought down many of the aristocracy. The Fitzwilliams lived at Wentworth House, one of England’s largest privately owned homes. Bailey uses accounts of the miners and their families to describe both the lives of the wealthy Fitzwilliam family and those of the poverty-stricken laborers. Low pay and long working days were hard enough, but when times were bad, the corporate mine owners cut pay and shortened the work week. After World War I, German reparations included providing free coal to the European victors, undercutting the English market and halving the earnings of the miners. The Fitzwilliams, especially the seventh Earl and his wife, were particularly well-liked, as they continued a feudal tradition of caring for their workers. “Lordie,” as he was known, insisted on maintaining the latest safety measures. During the long coal strike of 1926, they fed all the local children, organized games, created work on their other estates and even provided coal. The ruin of Britain’s stately homes and the end of coal as a primary industry were due to the steam engine, better transport and refrigeration, as well as the increase in inheritance taxes from 15 to 50 percent. Wartime nationalization of the mines and sequestration of estates served as the final blows. Gossipy bits—e.g., questioned legitimacy, grand entertainments and “Kick” Kennedy’s marriage to the Devonshire heir and subsequent affair with the ninth Earl—keep the reading lively.

The real value of this work is in the recounting of the ends of two classes, the lower and the very upper.

Pub Date: Dec. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0143126843

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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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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