This complex, subtle work leaves room for admiration, but also for less exalted thoughts. A fine corrective to the usual...



The American Revolution, writes Nash (History/UCLA; History on Trial, 1997), was messy, deadly, and radical through and through—far from the sanitized, mythical version of the textbooks.

Call this an alternate textbook, one that pauses to mention Thomas Peters, who took freed slaves to Canada and helped found Sierra Leone, and Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee who took the occasion of the Revolution to press for his own people’s rights. There were many revolutions in play, says Nash, some with long antecedents, not least in the Great Awakening that, having ignited civil war in England a century earlier, brought religious fervor to the class struggle of smallholder vs. gentry up and down the seaboard. (Matters were not helped when the Crown passed the Quebec Act, which guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics.) The struggle also had a strong economic component, as a British general, Thomas Gage, observed; once the “people of property” whipped up the lower class to protest the Stamp Act, they were amazed to find the crowd turning against them and “began to be filled with terrors for their own safety.” Nash reminds us that the Revolution was a civil war, fought against other Americans as much as English troops, and that the burden of the fight was borne by “those with pinched lives, often fresh from Ireland or Germany, recently released from jail or downright desperate”; the valiant minutemen, it seems, preferred to stay home and duck paying taxes, prompting one French volunteer to observe that there was more enthusiasm for the cause of American freedom in the average Paris café than in the colonies. Tantalizingly, Nash evokes a secret history by Continental Congress secretary Charles Thomson, who amassed a thousand pages of notes, buried them, then dug them up and burned the lot. “I could not tell the truth without giving great offense,” he later remarked. “Let the world admire our patriots and heroes.”

This complex, subtle work leaves room for admiration, but also for less exalted thoughts. A fine corrective to the usual hagiographies.

Pub Date: June 27, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03420-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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