Murray’s answers are bound to set the walls of the academy and the halls of the learned journals ringing with rebuttals. But...

HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT

THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE IN THE ARTS AND SCIENCES, 800 B.C. TO 1950

Yes, human societies really do evolve for the better—thanks to the technologies, ideas, and other contributions of scads of mostly dead white European males.

Never let it be said that Murray (What It Means to Be a Libertarian, 1997, etc.), co-author of the hotly debated Bell Curve (not reviewed), shies from controversy. His overarching thesis will attract gainsayers from the outset, especially among the cultural relativists whom he takes great pains to twit throughout his long—but eminently readable, and often entertaining—discussion. (“Assessing the comparative contributions of the Greeks and Aztecs to human progress,” he observes by way of an opening shot, “is not a choice between equally valid constructions of reality.”) Cultural and intellectual historians of a certain bent may find more troubling Murray’s rationale for identifying those who have really made a difference in shaping the ways in which the civilized world thinks, works, and lives: his method resembles that of a search engine in ranking artists, musicians, writers, scientists, and other assorted thinkers and makers by the number of “hits” they earn in standard surveys of the literature. Michelangelo is thus the world’s premier artist because he figures most heavily in the indexes of art surveys—but, Murray rejoins, “Shakespeare gets more attention that everyone else because Shakespeare wrote better than everyone else.” Setting aside the question of whether intellectuals, like Hollywood types, can be famous merely for being famous—one manifestation of the Google effect—Murray’s overview of the progress of art and science is engaging, user-friendly, and even self-effacing. (He allows that while he doesn’t enjoy the later works of Henry James, his wife does, “and over the years I have had to accept that I don’t know what I’m talking about.”) Murray wrestles with Big Questions: What kinds of social conditions favor the arts? Why did London emerge as a world center, while Hangzhou did not? Why are Western philosophers more important than, say, their Asian counterparts, pound for pound? Why have women been so poorly represented for so long in the inventories of culturally important figures?

Murray’s answers are bound to set the walls of the academy and the halls of the learned journals ringing with rebuttals. But readers who took pleasure in Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence are sure to enjoy his arguments and elegant presentation.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-019247-X

Page Count: 688

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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