The astonishing cultural legacy of ancient Athens can leave the impression that ordinary Athenians during the Golden Age spent their leisure-filled lives contemplating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. This refreshing look at Greeks at play corrects that idea. By examining the pleasures of eating, drinking, and sex, Davidson is able to draw broader conclusions about the distinctiveness of Athenian culture as a whole. For instance, the author makes much of the Athenians’ obsessive predilection for fish: unlike beef or mutton, fish was not a sacrificial or religious food and could be enjoyed for its own qualities, and fish consumption became a hallmark of urban sophistication, if not decadence. Wine, he shows, was central to Athenian merry-making, though the ancients appear not to have recognized the addictive and destructive powers of drink. Davidson also discusses at length the complex world of Greek sexuality: in the male-dominated society of Athens, an active commercial market in sex, the subjects of which were women classified as concubines or courtesans (decent women were so secluded that they seemed invisible), coexisted with a flourishing homosexual culture. Athenian attitudes toward pleasure had pervasive political implications as well: the pleasure-seeking class was the powerful minority, and excessive pleasure-seeking, or pleasure of the wrong kind, could emerge as a public issue when the private lives of public figures were scrutinized (Davidson discusses the trial of the politician Timarchus in 346 b.c. for having served as a prostitute). In the end, Davidson argues, the Athenian approach to pleasure, for all its flaws, “was vigorously rationalistic and humane . . . confident enough to insist on personal responsibility in managing appetites, never so frightened of pleasures as to flee them in panic.” Scholarly but accessible to the general reader, especially enjoyable in its use of snippets from classical texts to evoke the quotidian world of ancient Athens. (8 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18559-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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