THE RISE AND FALL OF CLASS IN BRITAIN

An original contribution to an old topic. Originally presented as the 1993 Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia University, these essays are bound together by a desire to expose the British obsession with class. Cannadine, who is director of the Institute for Historical Research at London University, is well suited to the task. Class is universally acknowledged as the master narrative of British history; but what exactly does “class” mean to the British? Cannadine doesn—t pretend to offer a comparative study (though one is surely needed) but instead a work of social psychology. Ten years in America have convinced Cannadine that “most British thinking about class is vague, confused, contradictory, ignorant, and lacking adequate historical perspective.” A serious charge indeed if we accept the commonplace assumption on the centrality of class in British history. Cannadine calls for a conception of class that is more serious, deliberate, historical, reflective, and creative. Class is not merely social description, but social inscription as well; class, for Cannadine, is what culture does to inequality and social structure. As such, class is determined not just by economics, but by perception, rhetoric, language, feeling, and sentiment. Cannadine is ambitious in his wish to write a history of class as “the history of changing (and unchanging) ways of looking at society.” In the words of the author, this is an “interim report from the historiographical battle front” after the tremendous changes of the last two decades. “Class can be nasty, and class can be boring,” as Cannadine admits. “In Britain it is often both.” Thankfully, his enlightening book is neither.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1999

ISBN: 0-231-09666-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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