Authoritative history demonstrating that, though the weaponry may have multiplied, the reactions of leaders and societies...


The tale of an ancient conflict, with ample leadership lessons for contemporary statesmen on fate and miscalculation.

Debilitating and drawn-out, the Peloponnesian War (431–404 b.c.) ended a golden age of peace, prosperity, and cultural achievement in the Hellenic world. It featured Sparta, the leading army and authoritarian regime in Greece; Athens, the greatest naval power and imperial democracy; and allied city-states that frequently served as the sites of the bloodiest action. With the death of Pericles two years into the war, Athens lost firm, consistent leadership and thereafter veered between peace and expansionist factions. At the end of hostilities, both sides had abandoned their war aims and indulged in rising numbers of atrocities, among them killing captured soldiers; factional and class warfare burst out; and participants violated formerly sacred taboos. Sparta and Athens suffered staggering losses (the latter to plague as well as warfare) that ultimately weakened their ability to fight off first Persia, then Macedonia. While necessarily reliant on Thucydides’ classic account, Kagan does take issue with it at points, noting, for instance, that the ancient historian may have relied on notorious Athenian turncoat Alcibiades as a source. The author points out innovative tactics, such as the use of enormous flame-throwers to set fire to walls and drive off defenders, with the same dexterity that distinguishes his portraits of major personalities like Nicias, the Athenian politician-general who turned the modest Sicilian campaign of 415 b.c. into a massive debacle. At times, general readers may get lost as Kagan (Classics and History/Yale; On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, 1995, etc.) attempts to do justice to this complicated era. But, ultimately, he justifies in painstaking detail Thucydides’ characterization of war as “a savage schoolmaster that brings the characters of most people down to the level of their current circumstances.”

Authoritative history demonstrating that, though the weaponry may have multiplied, the reactions of leaders and societies during wartime have altered little. (maps, not seen)

Pub Date: May 12, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03211-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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