With this comprehensive, insightful, and spirited opus, Sachar (Modern History/George Washington Univ.; A History of Israel, 1976 and 1977, etc.) rises to the position of preeminent Jewish historian of our day. Sachar's study aims far above the ``Look Who's Jewish'' genre of pop Jewish-American history, yet there are passages about men of Jewish descent who sponsored Columbus's voyages, speculation about the Jewishness of Abraham Lincoln's ancestry, and, much later, lists of Jewish entertainers, scientists, scholars, etc., whose Jewishness was often less than relevant. Sachar is at his best when succinctly presenting a generation's grappling with social, philosophical, political, and theological issues after major Jewish milestones like the influx of Eastern European immigrants, the Holocaust, and the Six-Day War. Both the ``beatification'' and ``martyrology'' of Holocaust study and the new religion of Israelism are critically discussed. Sachar has a historian's gift for mapping out the key crossroads facing the American Jewish community at each major juncture, from the American Revolution to the current ``quota crisis'' with the black community. He then offers a journalist's-eye view of the major figures behind the ideas and movements. Journalist Sachar can be rather subjective as he paints Orthodox rabbis (``hairshirt tribalists'') like Bernard Revel as amoral opportunists, and liberal secularists like Rabbi Stephen Wise as intrepid pioneers. Most laypeople of any stripe, though, will appreciate his saucy dismissal of most American rabbis as ``preening pulpiteers, social climbers, publicity and financial bonus seekers.'' In his reviews of major cultural figures, Sachar praises anyone that Irving Howe likes and trashes celebrated artists like Elie Wiesel—and, while noting that America has always swallowed up her Jews, he favors saccharine projections about the children of intermarried couples being ``raised as Jews.'' There are chapter headings like ``the German-Jewish Conscience at Efflorescence'' and adjectives such as ``latitudinarian,'' but this immensely readable tome offers several centuries' worth of crystallized energy.

Pub Date: May 2, 1992

ISBN: 0-394-57353-6

Page Count: 1056

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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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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