THE ASTORS 1763-1992


An absorbing if occasionally exculpatory chronicle of the moneyed Anglo-American clan whose founding father and scions made frequently problematic names for themselves on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilson (Rothschild, 1988, etc.) gained the cooperation of many living family members—and seems to have used his access to burnish the tarnished reputations of Astors from the contemporary era. While the author is at pains to put the best possible face, for example, on the second Viscount's role as host to the so-called Cliveden Set (a motley crew of intellectuals best remembered for supporting appeasement prior to WW II) and on his eldest son's involvement in the Profumo sex/espionage scandal, he's more judicious on the subject of their forebears. At the outset, Wilson traces John Jacob Astor's departure from Germany and his 1783 arrival in the US, where he amassed a fortune in the fur and China trades that he increased with shrewd investments in Manhattan real estate. Although John Jacob's descendants failed to surpass his accomplishments, many made their marks, and Wilson does a generally good job of tracking the dynasty's UK and US heirs as they pursued additional wealth, philanthropy, political causes, social status, or pleasure. Other notable members of the Astor line (by birth or marriage) include the American cousins who built several of Manhattan's landmark hotels (the Waldorf-Astoria, etc.); Caroline (of 400 fame); Nancy (the first woman elected to Parliament); Vincent (a one-time owner of Newsweek whose widow, Brooke, is still going strong); and influential publishers (of The Observer and The Times of London). Today, the house of Astor has by no means fallen, but Wilson leaves little doubt that the family's socioeconomic position isn't what it once was. A first-class version of a saga that bears retelling, though somewhat flawed by the author's transparent efforts to explain away the errancies of latter-day Astors. (Sixteen pages of illustrations, plus family trees dating back to 1620)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-09744-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1993

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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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