Still: a novel approach to the study of 18th-century French history.

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THE GREAT NATION

FRANCE FROM LOUIS XV TO NAPOLEON

Sure, the Sun King was a putz. But did things have to end so badly for the French monarchy?

Perhaps not, writes Jones (History/Univ. of Warwick) in this ambitious, overstuffed examination of France’s 18th-century political elite and the tangled process of statecraft. The revolution of 1789 was by no means inevitable, Jones writes contra generations of Marxist historians; taking the long view, Jones suggests that the “revival of political history” in the profession allows a kind of “flattening-out” of the century and even a de-emphasizing of the centrality of that revolution in the great narrative of Western history. Jones assesses the comparative strengths of France at the time—when, he reckons, perhaps one in every six Europeans was French and much of Europe’s economy was governed by the nation—and then ticks off, one by one, the many accreted missteps and errors in judgment that squandered that strength, from the enormous cost of building fabulous palaces to the failure of France to maintain a credible North American empire or “to show the flag in the New World in any meaningful way.” The time saw an intense concentration of power in the hands of the monarchy: Louis XIV insisted on ruling without ministers and in his own name, for instance, which, Jones writes, made the “rhetorical ploy of ‘rescuing’ the ruler from ‘evil’ ministers difficult to sustain.” The lessening of the powers of the nobility that followed formed an imbalance that would affect French politics up to and during the time of the Revolution, weakening civil government, and paving the way for Napoleon’s rightist coup, at which point it was impossible for the government to “gauge the extent of popular discontent because it had destroyed most channels of independent expression,” a recipe for bad times indeed. Throughout thickets of data and quotation, Jones is lucid and even entertaining, though he is fond of some curious turns of phrase (remarking here that “it would prove extremely difficult to wash the Sun King out of the French nation’s hair,” there that the Enlightenment was a “sociological boom-box”) that may make some readers despair.

Still: a novel approach to the study of 18th-century French history.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-231-12882-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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