A great idea, much research, but overwrought and overwritten. (12 maps)




Accounts of how the weather has affected human history (mostly military) from Noah to ’Nam.

Durschmied (The Hinge Factor, not reviewed) returns to the field of what-if history with descriptions of 15 events whose outcomes were altered by the weather. Only one—the Irish potato famine in the 1840s—deals in detail with a nonmilitary matter, and he is certainly not interested in the weather’s impact on cultural history (e.g., Shelley’s drowning at sea in a storm). The author begins with the Flood and proceeds chronologically through his material. And so we learn how a ferocious thunderstorm contributed to the destruction of the Roman legions of Varus (a.d. 9), how in 1281 a typhoon sank 3,500 ships packed with Mongol invaders headed for Japan, and how in 1795 some cavalry captured some warships frozen in ice. We see Tecumseh thwarted by fog, Napoleon by Russia’s “General Winter,” Germans (WWI) by avalanche, Admiral Halsey by typhoon. We see fair weather facilitating D-day (in one and a half pages) and turning the tide of the Battle of the Bulge (the best section: informed, richly detailed, exciting). In the Vietnam chapter, Durschmied adopts the first person and relates some of his own experiences. His prose is often breathless, pedantic, and even purple. “Somewhere east of China,” he begins one section, “over the endless Pacific Ocean, the sun burns down on an oily sea.” He romanticizes military achievement, blissfully mixes metaphors (“What really took place that day is buried in the mists of time”), and seems unaware that the term “hag” (twice employed to refer to elderly women) is today a tad inappropriate. His conclusions are often patent and sometimes hit the red zone on the DUH-Meter (e.g., “Man can be victorious against fellow man, but when confronted by the unleashed forces of nature, he stands powerless”).

A great idea, much research, but overwrought and overwritten. (12 maps)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-558-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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