This massive, thoroughly competent history of South Africa has everything except the final, galvanizing spark of life. As Welsh shows, from the first stirrings of recorded history, South Africans have demonstrated a perverse genius for making the precisely wrong choice at every important historical moment. Apartheid was only the latest and most egregious example of this historical ineptitude. Although it wasn’t formally enunciated until the late 1940s, its roots go far back. From the very first encounters between exploring Portuguese and the native pastoralists and nomads, there was suspicion and hostility. Apart from scenery, some fresh water, and a few safe harbors, South Africa had little to recommend itself to early explorers. The Dutch eventually settled Cape Town merely as a provision stop for ships on the long voyage to the vastly more important Indies. But colonists—Dutch and French Huguenots at first, later English—continued to trickle in, and started spreading north and east. Violence and war were endemic, white on black, white on white, black on black. And it only got worse and worse, with escalations on both sides. With the discovery of diamonds and gold, South Africa was transformed from a backwater at the bottom of the world into a regional powerhouse, and whites became even more ossified in their attitudes. It was only with the end of apartheid and the transition to a full democracy that South Africans at last seemed to have escaped their fatal historical incompetence. Welsh (A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong, 1993) has a great command of facts and details, and as a thorough and straightforward account of names, dates, and events, this is exceptional. But he has little feeling for the revealing details and telling anecdotes that illuminate the best histories. (32 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1999

ISBN: 1-56836-258-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Kodansha

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet