FROM PLATO TO NATO

THE IDEA OF THE WEST AND ITS OPPONENTS

An erudite examination of the history of the West and what this history has meant to both its proponents and opponents. “The West” is not, for Gress, a fellow at the Danish Institute of International Affairs, simply an idea. Presented as an unblemished history of progress from ancient Greece to the present, this idealized “Grand Narrative” in its perfection was easy prey for those who would oppose the West; it couldn—t possibly live up to its billing. This “Grand Narrative” was bad history, and Gress attempts to present a better history. He finds that the modern West evolved not as an idea but as a series of practices and institutions, some quite accidental and fortuitous, some tragic. Specifically, he finds the West to be an amalgam of ancient Roman, Christian, and Germanic cultures (the “Old West”) mixed with the Enlightenment creations of liberty, reason, and economic freedom (the “New West”). The scholarly detail with which the author presents this history is truly impressive. In the end, he concludes that the West of today, while not universal, not a destination at which all nations will or must arrive, is beyond question worth preserving and defending. He has, however, no patience whatsoever for those who would disparage the West. While his history is an intellectual marvel, his depiction of critics of the West consists of caricature and intellectual chicanery. Any criticism of the West is, for Gress, an attack on the whole tradition, so that the anti-Americanism of the Vietnam era simply became reformulated as anti-Westernism, so that “environmentalism” is nothing more than something invented by people to serve an authoritarian agenda. Thus does scholarship become reduced to polemic. Still, despite its flaws, this is a thought-provoking work, whether one is “for—— or “against—— the West.

Pub Date: July 13, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-82789-1

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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