A mostly trenchant book that oversells its contribution.



A first draft of the history of Jacob Zuma’s South Africa.

The publicity machine for Foster’s (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.) extensive tome on contemporary South Africa would have you believe that the author presents “a long-awaited revisionist account of a country whose recent history has not just been neglected but largely ignored by the west.” (Readers might rightly wonder how one can write revisionism of a history that has been largely ignored.) Foster has been traveling to South Africa regularly since 2004, and the extent of his legwork is unquestionable. He organizes his chapters loosely around various themes and individuals that allow him to explore the nature of South Africa’s democracy. In 2007, the African National Congress chose to remove Thabo Mbeki from the party presidency, replacing him with Zuma. While Foster tells this important story well, there is extensive literature about South Africa in the post-apartheid period, as Foster’s own far-from-complete bibliography makes clear. A good deal of the writing on the country has either come from Western academics and journalists or has otherwise been readily available in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, Foster’s subtitle is misleading, as he provides less a complete overview and assessment of post-apartheid South Africa than he does of the period since 2004. While the book’s promise and originality might be overstated, Foster’s journalistic chops are not. The author was obviously fantastic at cultivating contacts, and he draws insightful observations from the hundreds of people he interviewed and those he encountered in passing. He proved to be especially good at connecting with young people and drawing on their astute observations about the country they have inherited. Unfortunately, the author inserts himself on nearly every page, constantly reminding us that he was there.

A mostly trenchant book that oversells its contribution.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-478-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?