A keenly observant, if at times pretentious, exploration of identity politics writ large at the national level. What Lowenthal (Geography/University College, London) calls ``the cult of heritage'' is seen today in historical theme parks; museum and commemorative policy; child adoption; a booming illicit trade in art and antiquities; and most ominously, in xenophobia, racism, and genocide. Frequently heritage involves a national or ethnic trauma that needs to be recalled, such as the Holocaust for the Jews, the Potato Famine for the Irish, and the wars that kept Poland subjugated for years. At times, however, this emphasis sparks a kind of victim politics that brooks no disagreements and can even lead to a cycle of mutual grievances and bloodshed, as in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and the Middle East. Unlike history, Lowenthal notes, heritage makes no attempt at objectivity as it views the past with present-minded purpose. Heritage further deforms the past because it is ``popularized, commoditized and politicized,'' in the form of kitschy theme parks like Disney's aborted Historyland and the more ambitious if still somewhat misleading Williamsburg (where management is still uncertain how fully to depict slavery in this colonial capital). Lowenthal is especially canny about heritage as an all-consuming growth industry, noting that Stonehenge is now protected from predatory tourists by barbed wire. However, he has caught more than the net of his argument can reasonably hold (it's a wide range from essentially liberal curatorial issues to the horrors of genocide), and his prose aims for high-flown rhetoric when a little earthiness might have been helpful. Moreover, he never really shows the reader how to separate the wheat of heritage (its function as ``creative act'') from the chaff (the many faults he describes). Still, a provocative examination of how nations worship at, and are sometimes sacrificed on, the altar of memory.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82798-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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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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