A compelling story about how sometimes the little everyday things can shape the broad sweep of history more powerfully than...



Former Irish Times Moscow correspondent O’Clery (May You Live In Interesting Times, 2008, etc.) chronicles the last of day of the Soviet Union and pulls together the threads which lead to its dissolution.

The author gives microscopic attention to the telling details: whose pen was used to sign documents, how CNN got to broadcast Gorbachev’s speech and much more. Shaping the day, writes O’Clery, were the successive effects of the bitterness, resentments and grudges of the five-year rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Nothing went as agreed, not even the ceremony designed to transfer the Russian nuclear suitcase containing the weapons’ launch codes. The nuclear suitcase remained a constant, before and after, but so too were the petty rivalries that prompted Yeltsin to refuse to meet Gorbachev ever again because his final speech was an unacceptable insult. O’Clery presents Gorbachev as a kind of communist’s communist to the end—a safe in his office contained Stalin’s own file about the Katyn massacre and the Hitler-Stalin pact, even though Gorbachev had insisted these documents no longer existed. It was Yeltsin who helped win independence for Russia, got himself elected president against Gorbachev’s candidate, outlawed the Communist party, took over its property and organized the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, Gorbachev managed to keep the support of his Western admirers up to and even beyond the attempted coup in 1991.

A compelling story about how sometimes the little everyday things can shape the broad sweep of history more powerfully than ideologies or competitive economic systems.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58648-796-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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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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