An admirable history of a lesser-known Roman era.




A fresh look at a little-known corner of the history of the Roman Empire.

Alaric, born around 370 C.E., led an army that sacked Rome in 410; this expert history describes his life but mostly his times. Boin, a professor of history and the author of Coming Out Christian in the Roman World, emphasizes that Rome’s “decline and fall” was a concept invented by later historians. No fourth- or fifth-century Roman believed the empire was “falling” even though times were difficult. Almost nothing is known of Alaric’s early life, and only a few historians, not all of whom were contemporaries, recorded his later accomplishments, most of which were military actions. Alaric was born into a Gothic tribe that, a few years later, under pressure from Huns invading from the north, migrated into Roman territory. As recent immigrants, they were denied the benefits of Roman citizenship, which caused resentment as well as economic hardship. By the second century, Romans had lost interest in most military matters, so the army had become dependent on “barbarians.” Alaric enlisted as a young man and quickly rose to high rank. Around 395, having won an important victory, he quit the emperor’s service, apparently frustrated at being denied promotion, and was elected ruler of his tribe (later known as Visigoths). For the remainder of his life, he fought against Rome, invaded and plundered Greece, and laid siege to Rome three times. Twice, he was bought off, but the third attack resulted in the sack, during which his men plundered but (rare for the time) did not massacre the citizens. A few months later, as his army and tribe wandered Italy, he died. Although Alaric never comes fully to life as an individual, Boin delivers a revealing account of the late Roman empire, which was misgoverned, retreating from its frontier provinces, and almost perpetually at war but still certain it was the epitome of civilization.

An admirable history of a lesser-known Roman era.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63569-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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