As useful in its time as Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors was 20 years ago.



A superb portrait of Mexico, a nation still in the process of being built—perhaps, hopes Shorris (In the Yucatán, 2000, etc.), by “inserting freedom and fairness into its past in order to change its future.”

It is an old trope, old even in Octavio Paz and Alfonso Reyes’s time, to suggest that Mexico is a country haunted by history. But so it is, and Shorris points out with reason that “everything that happens in Mexico today has roots in the clash of civilizations that took place at the beginning of the sixteenth century, from the choice of a president to the killing of Indians in the jungles of Chiapas.” That clash had improbable results, writes Shorris; the conquistadores, only a few hundred in number, under the lawyer Cortez should not have been able to overwhelm the great Aztec Empire. Yet it happened, and Mexico’s post-conquest history has been marked by struggle between Europeans and Indians for political power; the lowliest Spanish arrivals, however poor and disreputable, were socially superior to the best-educated and wealthiest creoles, to say nothing of the indigenes. Shorris’s narrative approach is at once journalistic (he’s spent a lot of time on Mexican ground over more than half a century) and historical (he’s read every book ever written, it seems, on Mexico’s past). It is also exquisitely literary, for Shorris believes that Mexico is driven by ideas such as the revolutionary antipositivism of the Flores Magón and the quasi-anti-Mexicanism of the newest generation of authors, who call themselves the Crack Generation (which “refers not to ‘crack’ as ‘rock cocaine,’ but to ‘crack’ as in la Ruptura”). He is not so literary, though, as to explain away with metaphor some of Mexico’s darkest secrets, among them the Dirty War of the 1970s, when government stooges murdered liberals at a rate to rival Argentina and Chile. Shorris closes by considering Mexico’s binational future (one in ten citizens now live in the US), the battle to end corruption, and the struggle to replace creaky authoritarian parties with democratic ones.

As useful in its time as Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors was 20 years ago.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-05926-X

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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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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