A remarkable sense of being on scene when the political process yields to paroxysm.



Reporter-historian Durschmied (The Hinge Factor, not reviewed) deftly catalogues facets of intrigue, horror, and chaos by placing himself as a frontline correspondent in a two-century span of sociopolitical upheavals.

At first his selection of events within the period seems somewhat arbitrary: what, after all, does Robespierre’s Reign of Terror have in common with the midnight rides of Pancho Villa or the nearly forgotten, tragically abortive little putsch of Rosa Luxemburg in the Germany that festered between two World Wars? Durschmied essentially hands the reader a detailed workbook with which to dope it all out. And it seems that rebellions, consummated or not, do share national or collective passions that invade the irrational and, at their core, personalities who are thrust into causes that demand utter abandonment of any consideration of human suffering or cost. Some—say, Stalin—press on, some accede or withdraw, but either way the results, the author asserts, are never pretty and almost always so ambiguously skewed as to render the absolute concepts of success or failure irrelevant. Beyond that, intricate cultural shadings and chaotic twists make each Durschmied parable substantially different from its companions. Readers who can stay with the myriad facts as they arrive in rapid succession are rewarded by moments that crystallize revolutionary pathos: in 1967, Che Guevara’s bullet-riddled body lies in a Bolivian schoolhouse while nearby some of South America’s poorest peasants, by choice totally oblivious, toil on. Che, like any number of self-anointed idealists bent on curing society with hard medicine, would live on only in the world of T-shirts. The final message, from Ayatollah Khomeini’s brutally retro-ecclesiastical Iran, seems to be that in programming themselves to have obligatory, nonviolent revolutions every four years, Americans tend to have a hard time seeing the other kind—whenever or wherever—coming.

A remarkable sense of being on scene when the political process yields to paroxysm.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-607-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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