Socioeconomic surgery on a national scale, with no anesthetic.




Booker shortlistee Tóibín (The Blackwater Lightship, 2000, etc.) collaborates with historian Ferriter (Dublin City Univ.) to introduce and annotate contemporary documents from Ireland’s devastating mid–19th-century famine.

This is not yet another ringing indictment of Britain for solely inflicting the “Great Hunger” that ravaged Ireland for nearly a decade beginning with the onset of a potato blight in 1845. That notion, claims Tóibín in his prefatory essay, was abandoned decades ago by serious Irish historians. Instead, he presses the question of why Irish intellectuals and literati often seem reluctant to delve into a disaster whose causes were as complex as its results were tragic. Tóibín’s suggestion: the degree of profiteering engaged in by landholding and mercantile Irish, even as they witnessed the decimation of the poor among them, remains difficult for many to confront. The Ferriter-collected documents do contain, however, ample testimony to the role British incompetence, ethnic hatred, religious bias, and sheer inhumanity played in the administration’s approach to what became more of an “Irish” problem as it deepened. Factions in both countries found in the famine an opportunity to effect the “removal” of one-quarter or more of the Irish population through forced eviction from small holdings, with subsequent emigration as the only alternative for most to starvation or its companion ravages of disease. The collected letters, public postings, journalism, speeches, etc., summon both fact and emotion: personal accounts often resonate with agony but also chilling understatement of one of the great human tragedies on record by those forced to deal directly with it. They can still leave a reader room, the authors suggest, to agree with John Mitchel (1861) that “the almighty sent the potato blight but Britain caused the famine,” or to conclude as well, writes Tóibín, that “the Irish merchant classes and middlemen made a fortune out of the Famine . . . on the ruins of the smallholding class.”

Socioeconomic surgery on a national scale, with no anesthetic.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-30051-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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...


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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