Visitors of Russia and social historians alike will benefit from Merridale’s thoroughgoing research and lively writing.




Comprehensive study of Moscow’s walled city, for centuries a byword for power, secrecy and cruelty.

“The Kremlin’s history is a tale of survival, and it is certainly an epic, but there is nothing inevitable about any of it.” So writes Merridale (Contemporary History/Queen Mary Univ. of London), author of the excellent Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939–1945 (2006), casting subtle doubt on the claims of the Putin government and its assertions of imperial destiny. Glorifying the past, of course, is a way to take eyes off the present, though the stratagem can sometimes backfire. What is of central importance to the history of the Kremlin and, by extension, that of Russia, is the capacity of its builders to return time and again to scenes of utter destruction and start from scratch. Or not quite from scratch, since, as Merridale notes at the close of her book, Russians were recently delighted to learn that the workmen who had been ordered to destroy the Kremlin’s Orthodox religious icons in the 1930s had defied Stalin’s orders and instead painted them over; and so skillfully that the paint can (comparatively, anyway) easily be removed and the icons restored. Stalin naturally figures heavily in these pages, a ruler whose apparatus was extremely effective in delivering cruelty. What is just as interesting, and perhaps surprising to most readers, is the role of non-Russians in making the Kremlin over the centuries, from a Venetian master builder to German craftsmen fleeing the religious wars of their homeland—to say nothing of the Byzantine hierarchy to whom Russian religious leaders used to answer. 

Visitors of Russia and social historians alike will benefit from Merridale’s thoroughgoing research and lively writing. 

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8680-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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