Popular history in the Alvin Josephy vein. Sides works material well-known to historians, but less so to general readers,...

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BLOOD AND THUNDER

AN EPIC OF THE AMERICAN WEST

Kit Carson versus the Indians—and everyone against everyone else in the Hobbesian world of the newly conquered American West.

Whereas Bernard De Voto, Wallace Stegner and latter-day historian David Roberts were and are concerned with the ideas and social trends behind historical facts, this author’s chronicle mostly blends just-so stories with human-interest sketches: Americans stream west into Spanish-speaking lands as James Polk (“possibly the most effective president in American history—and likely the least corrupt”) urges them to empire; the Navajo people, a case study in the terrible collision of nations, fight well even though they are culturally indisposed to draw blood; and few in the war between Mexico and the United States are inclined to play by the rules, leading to such little-sung moments as the Battle of San Pasqual, which should make no gringo jingoist proud. Sides (Ghost Soldiers, 2001, etc.) has studied the historical literature diligently and turned up some engrossing tales, from the fate of mountain man Bill Williams to the exploration of the Great Basin to the circumstances of Carson’s first marriage; if the details of native customs and the wealth of future senators are sometimes repetitive, his attention to what motivates people to act is refreshing, and Sides has a fine way of complicating his heroes and villains so that they emerge as flawed humans rather than misty figures of legend. And the flaws are endless, as with one fellow, for whom more than a few points on the map are named, who writes back to Washington following the death of a Navajo leader, “I very much regret that I had not procured Narbona’s cranium, as I think he had the finest head I ever saw on an Indian.”

Popular history in the Alvin Josephy vein. Sides works material well-known to historians, but less so to general readers, into an unchallenging but informative narrative.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-50777-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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