CLEOPATRA'S NOSE

ESSAYS ON THE UNEXPECTED

From historian and former Librarian of Congress Boorstin (The Creators, 1992, etc.), 17 sparkling and erudite essays that ``explore some of the surprising novelties and unexpected continuities in our recent past.'' Boorstin is a magnificent anachronism: He still believes in the essential goodness of the American experiment, and as an amateur rather than professional historian, he prefers straightforward narratives on grand themes rather than narrowly focused, footnote-laden quarrels with musty academics. These pieces, all published since 1986 as either keynote addresses or introductions to other writers' books, amply display his gift for arresting anecdotes and his ability to connect different events in compelling new ways. Several of his interests come to the fore here. First is his fascination with discovery and the creative process. He discusses the partnership between ``the search to know'' (discovery) and ``the passion to innovate'' (invention) and our current ``Age of Negative Discovery'' (case in point: James Cook, whose 18th-century Pacific explorations showed that the ``Great Southern Continent'' did not exist). While dazzled by advances in science and technology, Boorstin remains aware of their ephemeral nature, noting that all discovery ultimately reveals new realms of human ignorance. On the positive side, technology has given rise to revered American institutions; mass printing, for instance, paved the way for greater public acceptance of the Constitution. As a social analyst, Boorstin examines the role of conscience in Western literature and in America's current contentious politics. Alexis de Tocqueville and the Marquis de Custine, who wrote respectively of 1830s America and Russia, are his examples of social commentators who use history as a ``cautionary science'' and an avenue into a nation's soul. Finally, he offers a personal tribute to his lawyer father and ``the amateur spirit'' in the arts. Like the curious amateurs he celebrates, Boorstin offers ``a wonderful vagrancy into the unexpected.''

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43505-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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