Exhaustive and thought-provoking, but also a surprisingly good introduction for the lay reader. (34 halftones, 14 maps, 1...




An ambitious attempt to explain the essence of the Russian people and their empire.

Hosking (History/Univ. of London) builds on the central question posed in Russia: People and Empire 1552–1917 (1997): How do the Russians define themselves—by geography, language, culture, or empire? Not surprisingly (considering the nation’s vast land mass, generally unforgiving climate, and often hostile neighbors), geography ranks high here. Despite its autocratic history, the Russian empire has always been essentially decentralized, with the village at its core. Although governing elites made numerous attempts to impose their will on the people, whether through Soviet collectivization or Peter the Great’s reforms, in Hosking’s view these efforts typically succumbed to failure for a number of reasons, the most obvious being inadequate infrastructure but the most telling being the masses’ innate distrust of the elites. The concept of pravda (defined by Hosking as “the collective wisdom of the community”) informed the core of Russian values—not the decrees emanating from Moscow. From the perspective of the peasant, change meant risk, and in a life of precarious subsistence, risk was unacceptable. Of course, the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled did not completely protect the powerless; in the last century alone, collectivization and war caused tremendous suffering. Moreover, the inability of the ruling class to impose reforms meant that the nation lagged consistently behind the West with respect to material comforts. Given the scope of his subject, it goes without saying that the preceding observations represent but one of many themes developed at length by Hosking. Though his thinking is often unconventional, he organizes his account in a traditional manner, taking his structure from the successive governments that tried to control the vast empire.

Exhaustive and thought-provoking, but also a surprisingly good introduction for the lay reader. (34 halftones, 14 maps, 1 table, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-674-00473-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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