A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.



Eminent historian Worster (Emeritus, American History/Univ. of Kansas; A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, 2008, etc.) offers a concise, often elegiac account of the end of the American centuries.

The supremacy of the United States in world affairs in the last 100-odd years, writes the author, is the product of a kind of perfect-storm historical accident that will never come again: it presupposes the discovery of a hitherto-unknown if suspected landmass full of underused, if used at all, resources and peopled, if peopled at all, by inhabitants who are easy to conquer and control. “Such a discovery,” writes Worster sagely, “could happen only once in the earth’s history.” Given the exploitation of that newfound continent, not for nothing is the tutelary spirit of Worster’s book Jay Gatsby, that great denizen of the “empty, soulless mansions” that give onto a view of an “impoverished, polluted wasteland.” Our time is up because our natural riches have been so badly squandered. Even when it seemed as if they were inexhaustible, Worster notes, warnings were coming from the likes of the economist Adam Smith that there would come a time when the economy would attain stasis and could grow no further, absent the domination of other lands and markets. That talk of a “stationary state,” Worster notes, has long been anathema, and anyone who has dared suggest that the country, continent, and planet have natural limits has been branded a pessimist. The most sacred American mantra of the rising superpower was instead “growth,” even if that has been tempered by modern realities. And what realities they are: following the old pioneer trails westward, Worster invites us to “imagine what the western half of the continent may feel like in the year 2100 A.D.,” when water, perhaps the most precious resource of all, is scarce and the prairies and deserts are depopulated.

A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-984495-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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