John Cleese’s observation that the English are the only people on Earth with clenched hair is more economical, but...




He might have been a Roosian, a French, or Turk, or Proosian, or perhaps Itali-an: Gilbert and Sullivan aside, the subject of Hitchings’ (The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, 2011) latest is the beleaguered, class-obsessed Anglo-Saxon and the very notion of “Englishness.”

The author opens with the 1977 duel at Wimbledon between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, the latter of whom put a face to the word “ill-mannered.” As Hitchings notes, we have all moved on: Today, “we find McEnroe’s conduct authentic, even courageous, while Borg’s seems that of an android.” Yet McEnroe still speaks to the central point of this book: that rudeness and politeness both stem from the same origin, namely, “twisting one’s way out of discomfiture.” And no one is quite so discomfited as a Briton trying to make sense of the elaborate rules that govern society (see Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean). Though the mores-and-manners school of national description leads naturally to stereotyping and isn’t much used by geographers or anthropologists these days, Hitchings clearly has fun with his subject(s), both the English themselves and the code of conduct that has evolved since the Middle Ages—when, he notes, someone commodiously counseled that “one should not attack an enemy while he is at stool.” Evolve is a useful term here, since, as Hitchings notes, manners are not static. For one thing, “English eating habits have become markedly less predictable,” even if sex remains “a subject mired in hypocrisy, mostly handled with either purity or prurience, often treated in a manner that seems a mixture of the furtive and the fetishistic.”

John Cleese’s observation that the English are the only people on Earth with clenched hair is more economical, but Hitchings’ book, if sometimes overgeneralized, is still a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-26675-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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