A well-written summary, though nothing revolutionary.

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THE TERROR

THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE: FRANCE 1792-1794

Yet another visit to those sanguinary years when heads rolled, blood flowed and people cheered.

In his first book, BBC Radio writer Fife eschews most of the traditional conventions of scholarship and simply retells the sad, horrifying story. Readers interested in the sources of his many quotations, some as long as two pages, will look in vain for foot- or endnotes. Still, the author writes with skill, confidence and considerable wit, displaying a shrewd instinct for the important detail, the ironic twist and the poignant moment. Fife begins on July 11, 1793, with the assassination of Marat, stabbed in his bath by the distraught Marie-Charlotte de Corday. The author then returns to the Revolution’s early, hopeful days, examining its proximate causes (the horrible harvest of 1788 among them), its signal events (the storming of the Bastille, the beheadings of the king and queen) and the rise of a new generation of anti-royalist leaders. Fife spends some time assessing the situation in the Vendée, a region that wished to adhere to its king and its religion and paid for this folly by suffering unspeakable brutalities. The author frequently pauses to tell small, mostly appalling stories about minor characters who found themselves dragged to the guillotine for reasons ranging from clerical error to an intemperate remark in a dress shop. The tale’s dark hero, of course, is Robespierre, who first appears in the book’s opening pages and is rarely offstage thereafter. The narrative ends with his grisly demise: a botched suicide that left his face a ruin, followed by 17 hours of agony that ended only at the guillotine, the “national razor” whose operations the prissy, self-righteous lawyer and architect of terror had not previously witnessed. Fife properly notes an awful irony: The Terror’s leaders claimed to love “the people,” but did not much care for actual breathing ones.

A well-written summary, though nothing revolutionary.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35224-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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