Following Miller’s complex narrative may tax some general readers. Nonetheless, he offers an eclectic education often marked...




A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment—especially long-lived trees—to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism.

Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources listed in a near-80-page endnotes section, the author, who has taught at Cornell and the University of Wisconsin, builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century. The essays focus on naturalist/writer Henry David Thoreau; photographer A.J. Russell; slavery opponent James McCune Smith; anarchy advocate Burnette Haskell; and even Communist theorist Karl Marx. Miller terms the living trees connecting the land to westward-moving humans “witness trees.” From their spreading branches, the trees witnessed what humans considered “Progress.” As Miller writes, “in this epic whose text was the landscape, the most prominent feature was the continent’s leafy verdure.” Looking back, however, the author considers expansion and the many attendant unacceptable compromises of social justice. At intervals, Miller abandons his negativity by hoping for a better future marked by healthy trees, clean rivers, thriving family farms, humane technological advances, and communities of residents bound together in mutual compassion. In some sections, the author moves away from abstraction to ground the connected essays in specific trees, such as the great elm on the Boston Common or the giant sequoia in California that has been dubbed General Sherman. The essay focusing on Russell is especially poignant regarding trees—their presence and their absence—and how they link to ersatz progress, and many of Russell’s photographs illustrate the pages. Occasionally, Miller turns to the autobiographical, and understanding his adolescence and adulthood aid in comprehending his severe critique of American society in general and capitalism in particular. His real and imagined linkages to Thoreau, for example, provide clues.

Following Miller’s complex narrative may tax some general readers. Nonetheless, he offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-226-33614-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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