Literary history compressed into capsule-size that goes down like a charm.

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SELKIRK’S ISLAND

THE TRUE AND STRANGE ADVENTURES OF THE REAL ROBINSON CRUSOE

Acclaimed literary biographer Souhami (Gertrude and Alice, 1997, etc.) profiles the island and the individual whose story inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel.

The author begins her narrative not with the man but with the place: Isla Juan Fernandez, “The Island,” a volcanic crag off the coast of South America teeming with flora and fauna in the early years of European exploration. She then turns to the world of late-17th and early-18th-century seafarers, in particular one William Dampier, a privateer able to con respectable Londoners into financing his semi-legal operations in the South Seas. Highest on any pirate’s list of targets was the legendary ship known as the Manila galleon, which plied its trade between ports in the Philippines and Mexico. Dampier engineered a two-ship voyage whose primary goal was the capture of this galleon; a seaworthy Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk signed on as master of the second ship. The expedition met with little success. Their pursuit of the galleon became an exercise in frustration, the few spoils that were seized caused divisions among crewmembers, and Dampier’s ineffectual leadership turned the other officers against him. In the fall of 1704, Selkirk was accused of inciting mutiny and abandoned on The Island; he remained there over four years. In 1709, he was rescued by a scouting crew from yet another Dampier-led voyage. Readers back in Europe could not get enough of the firsthand narratives about such disastrous voyages; Dampier himself wrote several about previous trips, and two men from the expedition that saved Selkirk wooed the public appetite with books about his tribulations and theirs. Robinson Crusoe, the fictional version Defoe wrote in a matter of months, appeared in April 1719. Souhami’s account is brief yet dense with catalogued arcana. Her speculations about Selkirk’s thoughts may be her own, but she brings the man and his shipmates to life.

Literary history compressed into capsule-size that goes down like a charm.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100526-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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