Refreshing change of perspective for history buffs.

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BIG HISTORY

FROM THE BIG BANG TO THE PRESENT

World history on a grand scale, in just over 300 pages.

Brown (Education/Dominican Univ.; Refusing Racism: White Allies and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 2002, etc.) begins with the creation of the universe during the Big Bang and spends five chapters dealing with what used to be called prehistory: the formation of stars and planets, the origin of life, trilobites, dinosaurs, Neanderthals, etc. Even when she arrives at complex societies (“civilization” is evidently a loaded word to the new school of historians), the focus is not on individuals but on broad social movements. Names like Alexander and Napoleon merit at best a passing reference in the broad flow of societal development. The author places a strong emphasis on developments in Asia, Africa and the Americas—especially in the centuries after the disintegration of the Roman Empire, when Europe was largely a cultural backwater. This leads to interesting inversions of the perspectives fostered by Eurocentric history: Alfred the Great, for example, goes unmentioned, while Tsai Lun, the second-century Chinese eunuch credited with inventing paper production, gets due credit, and the early years of Islam get more attention than the French Revolution. Traditionalists will undoubtedly grumble about the author’s choices, especially the breezy dismissal of Europe from 1000 to 1500 as a “marginal” society, covered in just under four pages—about the same space given to the Aztecs. But Brown has an interesting story to tell, especially since it’s not the one most of us learned in high school. The African, Asian and early American chapters of the story of humanity are, from the larger perspective suggested by the title, at least as important as the European. Nitpickers will find plenty to snipe at, but even they are likely to learn a remarkable amount from this super-wide-angle view of our history.

Refreshing change of perspective for history buffs.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59558-196-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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