An insightful thesis on how history works, perfect for big picture buffs.

DISRUPTION

WHY THINGS CHANGE

An examination of great upheavals from the past, emphasizing their common elements.

In the tradition of Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), University of Michigan history professor Potter delivers expert accounts of significant historical transformations, including the rise of both Christianity and Islam and the (in retrospect) ephemeral course of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, all of which illustrated three features: disruptive ideas that already existed in the society but in fringe movements; “repudiation” of principles of the old system; and a “group tightly organized around a charismatic leader who saw himself as creating a new political order.” Potter points out that mass misery often produces anarchy, but it takes organization to make a revolution. Thus, the teachings of Jesus sustained Rome’s Christian minority for three centuries until Constantine established it as the dominant force in the empire. Muhammad inspired fellow Arabs with revelations from God that superseded those given to Jews and Christians, but it was only after his death that Abd al-Malik bureaucratized his teachings to allow for Islam’s massive expansion. Marxists would have remained obscure 19th-century reformers if Lenin and his followers had not taken advantage of the disintegration of czarist Russia. According to Potter, the American Revolution succeeded because its chief figures, led by George Washington, knew what they wanted—not to destroy their government but to regain liberties enjoyed by earlier generations. Because its leaders lacked wide appeal and political acumen, the French Revolution succeeded only in exchanging a king for an emperor. Potter believes that today’s global retreat of democracy in favor of jingoism and autocracy is another transformation, but readers expecting to learn how this obeys his ongoing theme will be disappointed. The author holds a low opinion of both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, noting that they lack the charisma of great leaders—although he has little doubt that they represent the wave of the future.

An insightful thesis on how history works, perfect for big picture buffs.

Pub Date: July 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-751882-3

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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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 solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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