Highlights of Victorian low-life, from costermongers’ barrows, East End brothels, and “penny gaffs” to Scotland Yard, the court system, and the prison hulks. Any reader looking for the real-life context for Bill Sikes, Prof. Moriarty, and Raffles the Gentleman Thief will find a vivid, occasionally lurid one in this true-crime history by novelist-biographer Donald Thomas (The Ripper’s Apprentice, 1989; Henry Fielding, 1991; etc.). Concentrating on London, this history leans heavily on such notable sources as Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor, the priapic memoirs (by a diarist known only as “Walter”) entitled My Secret Life, and Dickens’s Sketches by Boz. Through these and other sources, Thomas covers the environs of working-class criminals (sometimes known as “the poor who fought back”), from the slums of Whitechapel and the tenements of “The Devil’s Acre” in Westminster, colloquially called “rookeries” and “rabbit-warrens.” These firsthand accounts of thieves and prostitutes, dodgers and doxies, come alive through Mayhew’s investigations and Walter’s confessions. Thomas, on his own merits, proves best on more intricate crimes: the Great Bullion Robbery, in which several hundredweight of gold was stolen from railway safes designed by the redoubtable locksmith John Chubb; the career of the forger “Jem the Penman,” actually the successful barrister James Saward; and a notorious case in which an arch con man corrupted three detectives to cover his tracks. After this comprehensive chronicle of crime, Thomas concludes with the punishments, newly designed prisons, and miscarriages of justice. Strangely absent is the most notorious Victorian criminal, Jack the Ripper, whose killings were unlike any in England before and struck at the era’s heart. Otherwise, the only thing missing is Thomas’s own insights into Victorian morality and criminality, for which the richness of the material cries out. A colorful survey of what one reformer called “Darkest England,” though Thomas is content to watch from the shadows. (60 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 1998

ISBN: 0-8147-8238-8

Page Count: 346

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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