For anyone who dreams of adventure in far places: Despite the author's resistance to hero-worship and romanticism, this is a...




A sober look at the great—and not so great—explorers of history.

Fernández-Armesto (History/Tufts Univ.; Humankind, 2004, etc.) views exploration as the means by which the various branches of the human race that spread apart before the rise of civilization came back into contact. The story begins in ancient times, with the peoples of the Indus valley, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia establishing trade routes and spheres of influence as early as the second millennium b.c. Most of these left no written records, though Egypt's adventures into central Africa were extensively documented. Across Asia, the Silk Road diffused Chinese goods as far as the Mediterranean. And early sailors took advantage of regular monsoons to establish trade across the Indian Ocean. At the same time, the Polynesians were crossing the Pacific and the Thule Inuit conquered the Arctic in craft that would seem hopelessly primitive if they had not proven themselves in the toughest conditions. Surprisingly, except for the Vikings, Europeans were latecomers to the game of navigation. The author takes pains to show how far ahead the Chinese, Indians and Arabs were, trading over wide areas at a time when western sailors hardly dared leave sight of land. That began to change in the 14th century, as the Portuguese and Spanish—marginal societies at the time—tried to get a slice of the trade that was making eastern nations wealthy. Progress was slow, and often accidental—Fernández-Armesto maintains a healthy skepticism toward most of the famous names of history. Columbus and Magellan get faint praise; Lewis and Clark are “heroic failures”; and most of the more recent explorers fare even worse in his estimation.

For anyone who dreams of adventure in far places: Despite the author's resistance to hero-worship and romanticism, this is a colorful compendium of history's risk-takers, with a welcome emphasis on non-European and non-English-speaking pathfinders.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-06259-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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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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