A generally persuasive, impassioned book-length essay. While his conclusions (and language) sometimes grow repetitive, they...

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THE UNDIVIDED PAST

HUMANITY BEYOND OUR DIFFERENCES

Historian and editor Cannadine (History/Princeton Univ.; Mellon, 2006, etc.) constructs a stirring critique of history that questions conventional approaches to narrating the human chronicle.

The author rejects the Manichaean simplicities of “us vs. them” and “good vs. evil” embodied in traditional histories’ preoccupation with “difference” as well as the alleged uniformity of antagonistic groups. Cannadine investigates the categories of religion, nation, class, gender, race and “civilization” to reveal the persistence of thinking in adversarial absolutes—the malevolent or hapless “other”—and the incalculable damage this mindset has caused. He insists that we indulge in arbitrary, incomplete group “identities” and ignore at our peril the interactions that go on across supposedly impermeable boundaries. Knighted in 2009 for his distinguished service and Chair of the National Portrait Gallery from 2005-2012, the author is no Pollyanna. In assaying the work of such predecessors as Gibbon, Huntington and Toynbee, as well as contemporaries of the caliber of Fernández-Armesto, he acknowledges the strife that has occurred within these often self-contradictory categories but argues convincingly that such tensions are far outweighed by a history of mutual borrowing and cross-fertilization between peoples. Of particular salience are his observations on religion and perception as expressed in a divergent view of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. That we exaggerate animosities and fail to recognize how cooperation, at least as much as conflict, has marked humanity’s experience, may seem a belaboring of the obvious. Yet Cannadine, an accomplished writer, details it in fresh and provocative terms.

A generally persuasive, impassioned book-length essay. While his conclusions (and language) sometimes grow repetitive, they nonetheless serve to underscore at every turn an incisive argument buttressed by millennia of evidence.

Pub Date: April 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-26907-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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