A droll, tongue-in-cheek view of history best taken in small doses and with a grain of salt.


Historical sketches of 48 countries that no longer exist.

“Countries die,” writes Defoe on the first page. “Sometimes it’s murder. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s because they were too ludicrous to exist in the first place.” The author, who admittedly uses the term country broadly, provides brief, often humorous summaries not intended to provide a comprehensive, scholarly examination of extinct countries. The book contains a mixture of familiar nations and “countries” that many readers may have never known existed (Poyais, Khwarezmia, the Free State of Bottleneck, the Great Republic of Rough & Ready, etc.). Although Defoe offers a clever perspective, the satirical tone occasionally misses the mark. Regarding the Kingdom of Bavaria (1805-1918): “Every morning, Ludwig II, the fourth king of Bavaria, would have his barber tease out his hair into a weird bouffant that made his head look massive.” The Principality of Elba (1814-1815): “It had been a rough few years and, like desperate parents sticking an iPad in front of their difficult toddler, the great powers of Europe decided to give the recently vanquished Emperor Napoleon a little country of his own to play with.” The author’s irreverent, often biting style captures numerous unsettling elements of world history. “The Confederate States of America hasn’t been a thing for a century and a half,” he writes, “but that doesn’t stop cowardly Nazis (in those parts of Europe where the swastika is banned) from using the Confederate flag as a coded bumper sticker.” And: “The new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, barely out of its bubble wrap, first fell apart in World War II. Croatia enthusiastically hooked up with the Axis powers. So enthusiastically in fact, that the Nazis found the Croat massacres of the Serbs a bit hard to stomach (compared to their own, much neater genocides).” It’s not Niall Ferguson, but it fits the historical facts.

A droll, tongue-in-cheek view of history best taken in small doses and with a grain of salt.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60945-680-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Europa Compass

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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