A lucid and comprehensive account spanning the nearly four centuries of international intrigue and bloody struggle for control of the vast riches of the Spice Islands. At the dawn of the 16th century, the group of islands astride the equator to the east of Java known as the Moluccas became the stage for the first major colonial conflict played out by the seagoing European powers, and as Corn (Distant Islands: Crossing Indonesia's Ring of Fire, 1991) ably relates, the prizes were the most valuable commodities on earth: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and later pepper. The Spanish were the first beneficiaries of a cargo of spices brought by the remaining ship of Magellan's last voyage, but it was the Portuguese, urged on by figures such as the Jesuit Francis Xavier, who militarily first took control of the spice trade. Control over the region was finally wrested in the early 17th century by the tyrannical Dutch East India Company, responsible for the massacre of 14,000 of the 15,000 inhabitants of the Banda Islands, the richest spice-producing islands in the East Indies. The final section of Corn's study focuses on the merchants of Salem, who carried on a fantastically lucrative trade in pepper with the canny and often treacherous rajahs on Sumatra. As in most good history books, readers will be challenged by a wealth of revelatory arcana; for instance, unbelievably, until the mid-18th century botanists believed that plants native to one region could not be grown anywhere else; as part of the treaty eliminating England as a player in the Moluccas, Holland traded New Amsterdam- -later Manhattan—to the English for a tiny island two miles long and a half mile wide. This is as pleasurable and eye-opening a history as one would hope for, generous in its descriptions of exotic islands and exciting in its depictions of the men who made fortunes in their waters. (maps)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56836-202-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Kodansha

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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