In Orientalism (1978), Said denounced the ethnocentric distortions of (primarily) the Islamic world by Western scholarship, past to present. Here, he 1) recasts the argument to apply to present-day American attitudes and perceptions generally; then 2) reviews American media treatment of the first two months of the hostage crisis; and finally 3) suggests ways out of "the interpretive circle." The book is somewhat disjointed as a result (sizable portions appeared first as articles in The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review), and somewhat repetitive: there is also an outtake on the PBS-Saudi Arabian conflict over the showing of the film Death of a Princess. Nonetheless, the first section is valuable as a summary of the "tendency to favor certain views" of a supposedly monolithic "Islam"—to see it as intransigent, and from the oil crisis onward, as hostile and threatening. It is also valuable for Said's observation that the Islamic world reacts against that particular image, "the so-called Orientals acting the part decreed for them by what so-called Westerners expect." Islamic internal energies are real and diverse, Said stresses, and "Muslims need to emphasize the goal of living a new form of history." The second section, on the hostage-crisis coverage, is both a bill of particulars, focusing on the elite—Walter Cronkite couldn't pronounce names correctly, the New York Times' Flora Lewis' "scurrying about in sources and unfamiliarity with her subjects gave her readers the sense of a scavenger hunt"—and a case study of a skewed, ultimately inflammatory response to a little-understood situation. (It's only too bad that room was not found, in an appendix, for the letters of protest to Columbia Journalism Review, and Said's replies.) The third section very precisely works over "how knowledge [of Islam] gets produced"—implicitly addressing the problems of how to deal with any alien culture. On this last, Said is probably the most trenchant commentator around.

Pub Date: May 29, 1981

ISBN: 0679758909

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981

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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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