An excellent survey for general readers, refreshingly opinionated without neglecting to give conventional wisdom its due.



British classicist Hall (Greek Tragedy, 2010, etc.) defines 10 characteristics that unified ancient Greek culture.

The author focuses on an individual characteristic during a particular historical period: For example, the Mycenaeans, whose heroes and wars are the subjects of Greek culture’s foundational epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were, like all the Greeks who followed, seafarers. The Greeks’ inherent suspicion of authority shaped their ethnic identity, which began to cohere in the eighth century B.C. around the idea that each free man had equal rights and privileges. (Hall is matter-of-fact about the miserable position of women in ancient Greece but is given to delightfully tart asides such as, “Medea [in Euripides’ tragedy] is the Athenian husband’s worst nightmare realized.”) Their inquiring natures sparked the births of natural science and philosophy as intellectual disciplines in the sixth century B.C. Their insatiable competitiveness led Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world but kept him from naming an heir and prevented his warring successors from presenting a united front against the rising threat of Rome. The Greeks’ love of excellence and addiction to pleasure are among the other traits Hall explores. It’s a clever way to organize 2,000 years of history, albeit slightly schematic—an impression reinforced by her tendency to frequently recap the 10 characteristics and a weakness for such this-will-be-on-the-test phrases as, “in the next chapter we ask” or “their achievements form the subject matter of this chapter.” These mildly annoying academic mannerisms are trivial in comparison to Hall’s wonderfully rich portrait of Greek culture’s evolution and underlying continuity from the Bronze Age to the triumph of Christianity. Maintaining a judicious neutrality in the modern scholarly wars, the author acknowledges that the Greeks adopted many of their Near Eastern neighbors’ best ideas and practices yet praises them for the unique “cluster of brilliant qualities” not found elsewhere in the ancient world.

An excellent survey for general readers, refreshingly opinionated without neglecting to give conventional wisdom its due.

Pub Date: June 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-23998-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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?