Sometimes exciting, sometimes tedious, always supported by a sturdy foundation of fact and tireless archival research. (3...



A thoroughly researched history of the origins of the Mafia in Sicily.

Journalist and translator Fentress (Eco’s The Search for the Perfect Language, 1995) reveals that the first printed occurrences of the word “mafia” date from the 1860s in the Palermo region. Derived from Palermitan slang for “flashy,” it soon grew to mean the “kingdom within a kingdom,” the “network of submerged power,” the criminal underworld. Fentress’s thesis is that “the story of the mafia cannot be understood except against the background of the revolution,” so he proceeds in his extremely detailed text to examine the uprisings in Sicily in 1820, 1848, 1860, and 1866—the latter “transforming itself into the mafia.” After an initial chapter dealing with pre-Mafia Sicily (beginning with the transfer of the island from Spain to Naples in 1743) and with a failed uprising in 1820, Fentress deals with each major revolutionary period in a separate chapter. The 1848 revolt succeeded briefly, only to be put down six months later by the Neapolitans. The 1860 revolution featured the derring-do of Garibaldi, and this chapter therefore contains some of Fentress’s most engaging narrative. In June 1860, after a “stunning military victory” by Garibaldi’s vastly outnumbered followers, the Neapolitans capitulated and Garibaldi assumed his stature as a Sicilian hero—if not a deity. Slipping into the interstice separating order from chaos was the criminal class known by all in the 1860s as the Mafia. (Fentress dismisses as “nonsense” the numerous folk stories about the Mafia’s medieval origins.) In an interesting section pointing out the parallels between criminals and politicians, Fentress observes that their talents “are broadly similar.” He also notes that the Mafia’s rise to power can be attributed partially to the Sicilian trust of “brigands and criminals . . . [rather] than the authorities.” Fentress ends his history with the chilling observation that the “mafia are the soldiers of the permanent revolution” (i.e., of the continuing “refusal to recognize . . . the legitimacy of authority”).

Sometimes exciting, sometimes tedious, always supported by a sturdy foundation of fact and tireless archival research. (3 maps, 18 plates)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8014-3539-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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