Sometimes speculative but always solid: a provocative essay that points toward dozens of topics for future dissertations....

THE AMERICAS

A HEMISPHERIC HISTORY

An ambitious but necessarily thin essay that “attempts to cover the entire hemisphere.”

Fernández-Armesto (History/Oxford; Near a Thousand Tables, 2002, etc.) allows that this effort “has not been tried before.” Understandably so, given the wealth of documentary material and the diversity of the peoples in North and South America; a couple of hundred pages is barely enough to cover the political history of Newfoundland, much less two continents and their outliers, which historically have touched on the coasts of Africa and Asia. Faced with a deluge of data and subjects, the author wisely settles on a few choice themes, none fully fleshed, each worthy of longer studies. One is the cultural history of pre-Columbian America, which, he observes, reflects a fundamental ecological imbalance. Whereas South America and Mesoamerica were rich in species and civilizations, much of North America was more austere and less developed, a skewing that continued well into historic times. “The relative paucity of civilization in most of North America cannot be explained by isolation,” Fernández-Armesto writes, going on to offer several explanations that involve, well, isolation, given the effects of topography and climate. Another fruitful theme is the parallel development of a sense of “Americanness” on both continents. At about the time colonial Virginians were beginning to think of themselves as something other than misplaced Englishmen, Creoles in Spanish-speaking countries were calling themselves Americans, affecting native dress, even maintaining that “American nature was superior to that of the Old World—according to some claims, even the sky was more benign and astral influences more favorable.” Fruitful, too, are the tantalizing, sometimes offhand observations on American borrowings of Spanish adaptations to the New World, ranging from intermarriage with Indian people à la John Smith to the proud appropriation of the term “liberal,” and the comparison of frontier-settlement patterns and ideologies in Canada, Brazil, and the US.

Sometimes speculative but always solid: a provocative essay that points toward dozens of topics for future dissertations. Budding historians, get cracking.

Pub Date: May 13, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50476-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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