An extraordinary achievement by one of the glittering minds of our time.



This lively and opinionated survey of western culture marks the capstone of the noted scholar’s intellectual career.

Many academics can’t be found in the pages they write. Barzun (former provost and professor at Columbia) is everywhere present in his. His seemingly limitless learning, wit, and always distinctive views shine in every paragraph of this, his first full-fledged trade publication since A Stroll with William James (1983). Few scholars combine erudition with such clarity and ease of expression as he does; few wear their learning so lightly or write so purposefully for the general reader. Now 93, Barzun seems to have read and to know everything. Starting with Luther’s revolution within Catholic Christendom, Barzun describes, evaluates, and, yes, judges the events, people, and ideas that have composed the history of western Europe and its overseas transplants for a half-millennium. But this is no textbook: it sparkles and courses through time and places like water in a clean-running brook. Readers will gain new insight here into figures, movements, books, and ideas that are probably already familiar; they will also discover little-known individuals, works, and events. One of the book's distinctive features is Barzun's engaging method for encouraging his readers to deepen their knowledge. Rather than conventional footnotes or lists for further reading, he gives direct, parenthetical exhortations (“the book to read is . . .”). Also characteristically, he never minces words: early 20th-century intellectuals, he states, gave a “turncoat response” to the Great War of which they were initially “rabid glorifiers.” In addition to such bracing frankness, the book justifies its price simply by the wonderful quotations that stud the margins of its pages. Barzun is pessimistic about the West's future, but his gloomy views rarely cloud his judgment and do not, fortunately, permeate the text. In every way, this is a book to savor.

An extraordinary achievement by one of the glittering minds of our time.

Pub Date: May 21, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-017586-9

Page Count: 816

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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