A witty and perceptive analysis of the rise, decline, and curious resilience of a national metaphor; by Bushman (A Good Poor Man's Wife, 1981—not reviewed). Concentrating on ``the idea of Columbus'' in the American imagination, Bushman bypasses debates about the man to focus on the mechanisms of popular mythologizing. Not that the author has any quarrel with revisionists—the admiral himself, in Bushman's review of known facts, emerges as arrogant, intolerant, and mercenary, albeit brave and persistent. How, then, did Columbus come to be embraced by a nation he had neither ``ventured to nor dreamt of''? Apparently, American infatuation with the explorer was an accident of literary timing, the main culprit being Scotsman William Robertson's depiction in his 1777 History of America of a heroic visionary tragically misunderstood by ungrateful monarchs. Widely circulated among the similarly aggrieved colonials, this view of Columbus was not only an apt mirror for American interests but, even better, ``provided a past that bypassed England.'' In a wide- ranging survey of late-18th- and early 19th-century literary, artistic, pedagogical, and commemorative products, Bushman traces the growth of an ``all-purpose symbol,'' with the real person quite beside the point. Particular emphasis, in keeping with this year's quincentennial, is paid to the 1792 and 1892 celebrations—the first largely orchestrated by N.Y.C.'s later notorious Society of Tammany, the second a national sensation centered on Chicago's Columbian Exposition. Although Bushman can get ponderous about symbolism (``what we think of Columbus reflects what we think of ourselves''), her thoughtful angle on a controversial subject provides a refreshingly balanced and wonderfully readable slice of American intellectual history. Timely and insightful—a well-rounded contribution to an often flat debate. (Fifty-two illustrations—not seen.)

Pub Date: June 19, 1992

ISBN: 0-87451-576-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1992

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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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