UNCOMMON PEOPLE

RESISTANCE, REBELLION, AND JAZZ

A collection of occasional pieces, journal articles, and reviews by one of our great historians (The Age of Extremes, 1995, etc.), showing off his catholicity of interests. Hobsbawm’s recurring concern in this new volume (15 of the 26 essays are previously uncollected in book form) is the forgotten men and women—the poor, the working class—who would have slipped through the cracks of macro-history were it not for his own work and that of others who write “history from below.” Even his jazz criticism is informed by this impulse—jazz, he writes, is “one of the few developments in the major arts entirely rooted in the lives of poor people,” a premise that is debatable but not uninformed. The book falls neatly into sections: a series of essays on questions of English working-class history, another on peasantry and social banditry (a Hobsbawm specialty), reflections on recent history, most of it American; several jazz pieces; and a closing meditation on the Columbus quincentenary. An economic historian by training and persuasion, Hobsbawm is at his best when using a seemingly irrelevant detail to elucidate larger trends, as in an aside on the simultaneous rise of the cloth worker’s cap, the school tie, and the private golf club in Victorian England, signs of emerging class stratification. It is hard to imagine any other historian who could make such fruitful use of the class implications of the rise of the fish-and-chip shop from the increase of purchases of industrial fish fryers. As a jazz critic, Hobsbawm brings a similarly astute sense of the interrelationship of social and economic history; regrettably, his sense of the music itself is not nearly as artistic. A collection of Hobsbawm’s writing is always welcome, and this one unearths some buried gems.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56584-466-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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