A wise, eye-opening interdisciplinary view of an era that “featured numerous exciting conceptions of the human form.”



An in-depth look at the medieval conception of the human body.

Some readers may be put off initially by this head-to-toe dissection of the body, but they should press on to encounter a delightful mixture of thought, experiment, discovery, and religion. In his debut book, Hartnell (Art History/Univ. of East Anglia, Norwich) uses his knowledge of art history and the drawings and paintings that showed then-current thinking on organs, bones, blood, and the body in general. The key to understanding this era is the interaction among diverse cultures. “A shared classical heritage undeniably binds together the medieval history of the regions on all sides of the Mediterranean,” writes the author, “separating them somewhat from the busy parallel stories of the Far East, India, China, sub-Saharan Africa or the pre-Columbian Americas. Three principal inheritors of the legacy of Rome [Byzantium, Western and Central Europe, and the Islamic world] come to the fore, each representing a different texture of the medieval bodies that I want to try to trace.” With the exception of the Crusades, the Muslim kingdoms thrived through tolerance for other religions and cultures, enabling trade and, most importantly, the sharing of ideas. For Hartnell, two of the most interesting illustrations are the “Hebrew Bloodletting Figure” and the “German Wound Man.” The bloodletting figure provided a map of the most efficacious spots to bleed a patient while the Wound Man offered cures for punctures and other wounds as well as instructions on the placement of a styptic. Among other intriguing topics, the author discusses a 10th-century Arabic author who provided dental advice and instructions on suturing wounds. As Hartnell shows, medieval conceptions of medicine and the body fluctuated between tangible and fantastic and often conflated thoughts, philosophy, and religion with artistic imagination. When we consider that observational dissections didn’t regularly take place until the 1500s, the scope of the work of these cultures is quite impressive.

A wise, eye-opening interdisciplinary view of an era that “featured numerous exciting conceptions of the human form.”

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00216-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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