This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones...



At Runnymede in 1215, King John (1166-1216) signed the document that laid the foundation of our freedom. While not a myth, the reality is less glorious, writes British historian and media consultant Jones (The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, 2014, etc.) in this lively, popular account of the Magna Carta’s bumpy 800-year ride into immortality.

While contemporary historians often go easy on him, the author’s John is the villain of legend—but one who inherited a host of problems. His predecessors had strengthened England’s central government and weakened the aristocracy, partly in order to better finance their wars. By John’s accession to the throne, many were tired of yielding to an increasingly grasping monarchy. John quickly lost nearly all England’s extensive French possessions, and his expensive efforts to regain them provoked a rebellion, mediation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Magna Carta. Jones admits that the document was “something of a muddle, a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king, most of which concern arcane matters of thirteenth-century legal principles.” Rarely does a phrase reverberate such as “King John concedes that he will arrest no man without judgment nor accept any payment for justice nor commit any unjust act.” Both sides immediately resumed a civil war that ended with the monarchy’s victory a year after John’s death. For a century, kings reissued versions as reassuring pieces of public relations before it fell into obscurity, to be revived during the 17th-century English revolutions and in America a century later.

This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones has done his homework to produce an insightful, satisfying history of a beloved, if usually unread, icon of freedom.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42829-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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