A turning point in English history, skillfully distilled for readers four centuries after.



Or, a year of living dangerously in England for champions of the Tudor line, would-be pirates, and civilians susceptible to a touch of the plague.

Many a noted British historian, such as Tudor specialist G.R. Elton, has passed the year 1603 by without much comment, thinking it no more important than any other 12-month period. London-based freelance writer/historian Lee (The Sceptred Isle, not reviewed), undaunted, makes a case for that year as one of those previously unheralded watersheds in the history of the British Isles. After all, it marked the death of Queen Elizabeth and the inauguration of the Scottish King James VI, who became James I of England and set about making all sorts of controversial steps and missteps and opening up the path to civil war later in the 17th century; as Lee writes, “Elizabeth may have commanded the obedience of the people, but James would not—and nor would any sovereign who followed.” Complicating James’s uneasy ascent to the throne was the return of the Black Death, which felled 40,000 English men, women, and children in 1603; it was less catastrophic than previous episodes of the plague, but an added burden in a time of hunger, want, and economic distress. Against this backdrop, Lee populates his stage with vivid characters, including the none-too-pleasant James himself; a rising star named William Shakespeare; and the privateer, ne’er-do-well, and poet Walter Ralegh, whom English writers and historians have lately been discovering. Though Lee falls for a classic schoolboy-Latin trap (“O rare Ben Johnson” has nothing to do with the poet’s uncommonness) and seems sometimes to be channeling a period ghostwriter (“The people of James’s green and pleasant land would prosper and breed as they might anyway have done”), his narrative moves well and neatly weaves many threads.

A turning point in English history, skillfully distilled for readers four centuries after.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-32139-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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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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