A provocative, well-written, and—with walls rising everywhere on the planet—timely study.




A sturdy historical tour of walls and their builders—and their discontents as well.

Build bridges, not walls. It’s a slogan, writes Frye (Ancient and Middle Eastern History/Eastern Connecticut State Univ.), “designed to give military historians fits.” Bridges, after all, have military purposes: to get across moats and earthworks and to ford rivers into enemy territory. Walls, on the other hand, make peace—history offers plenty of examples, he writes, to show that “the sense of security created by walls freed more and more males from the requirement of serving as warriors.” Indeed, by Frye’s account, walls are hallmarks of civilization, if ones that are easily thwarted. One of his examples is the Tres Long Mur, a defensive structure built more than 4,000 years ago, stretching across the Syrian desert and shielding some of the world’s oldest towns from marauders from the steppes beyond. There are mysteries associated with the ruins, just as there are with the Great Wall of China, another of Frye’s examples—and one that proves, readily, that where walls go up, people find ways to get around and over them. The author’s pointed case study of Hadrian’s Wall shows that it may not have been a defensive success, but that does not mean it didn’t have a defensive purpose, as some scholars have recently argued. As he writes, wittily, “there is little to be gained from rationalizing an irrational past.” Another defensive failure is the Maginot Line, which became more symbolic than practical in an age of modern tanks; on the reverse side are spectacular successes, such as the great walls of Constantinople, which shielded the city from siege by as many as 200,000 soldiers of the caliphate, “one of the greatest turning points in history.” Walls have many purposes, he concludes, and it is rather ironic that the matter of walls is often as divisive as a wall itself.

A provocative, well-written, and—with walls rising everywhere on the planet—timely study. 

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7270-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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