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



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 Muhammad inspired fellow Arabs with revelations from God that superseded those given to Jews and Christians, but it was only after his death that Abd al-Malik bureaucratized his teachings to allow for Islam’s massive expansion.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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.


The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet