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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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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