A richly detailed journey through a palimpsest of the past.



The evolution of the Louvre reflects the political, intellectual, and aesthetic history of France.

“Before the Louvre was a museum,” writes art and literary critic Gardner (Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City, 2015, etc.), “it was a palace, and before that a fortress, and before that a plot of earth, much like any other.” Drawing on scholarly sources that include the recently published three-volume Histoire du Louvre, the author offers a vivid chronicle of strife, wars, rivalries, and aspirations culminating in the present grand architectural complex, comprising nearly 400,000 objects, “a vast, indiscriminate cocktail of princely collections purchased or purloined over the course of centuries.” Gardner focuses on several of France’s rulers whose embrace of the arts shaped the future of the museum—e.g., Francois I, who brought the Italian Renaissance across the Alps as a patron and collector of works by Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Leonardo, whom he lured from Italy. When Leonardo arrived in 1516, he had in his trunks three paintings, including the Mona Lisa, which has become the Louvre’s most coveted attraction. In addition to collecting art, Francois took up the challenge of modernizing the royal residence, beginning “the 350-year process that would result in the Louvre as we know it today.” The 17th-century monarch Louis XIII, though not particularly interested in art or architecture, assigned the renowned architect Jacques Lemercier to enact significant changes. As far as the art collection itself, Louis XIV, with “an unappeasable appetite for masterpieces,” filled the Louvre with priceless treasures as well as quadrupling its size. But when Louis decided to move the court to Versailles in 1682, the Louvre fell into disrepair. After the American Revolution, repayment of the Colonies’ debt to France funded considerable repair and reconstruction. A small portion of the palace opened as a public museum—the Musée Central des Arts—only in 1793, in the midst of the Reign of Terror. Gardner cites Napoleon III, who ruled France from 1848 to 1870, as decisive in transforming the Louvre into its modern iteration.

A richly detailed journey through a palimpsest of the past.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4877-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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