History and biography lacking in intellectual curiosity or a coherent overarching concept.



Three mid-19th-century leaders shape their countries' destinies.

Prolific Canadian author Laxer (Political Science/York Univ.; Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812, 2012, etc.) contends that the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 launched three “nation state projects” in North America, attempts by a people who viewed themselves as cultural or ethnic nations to achieve formal statehood. He asserts that the United States then constituted two such nations, and the Civil War was an attempt by the Southern nation to gain statehood by splitting off from the federal Union, while the Northern nation ultimately aimed to reconstitute the Union as a single nation-state purged of slavery. At the same time, several of Britain's North American provinces were inspired to unite into the self-governing Dominion of Canada under the protective aegis of the British Empire. Most of the book is taken up with lightweight histories of Canada and the United States in the middle of the 19th century, narratives that draw heavily and uncritically on a handful of secondary sources. The chapters on Canadian confederation and the Red River Rebellion may prove interesting to American readers unfamiliar with the story, and Canadian readers may learn more about the run-up to the American Civil War, but the purpose of the book remains elusive. The concept that the antebellum Southern states constituted a cultural nation within a nation is hardly new, and the puzzle of what binds Canadians together as a nation is with us still. Attempting to unite his stories, Laxer contends that Canadian confederation was driven by a need for unified resistance to American domination or conquest, but he fails to marshal convincing evidence in support; it appears more likely to have been motivated by economic considerations, railroad interests, and dysfunctional government in the Province of Canada.

History and biography lacking in intellectual curiosity or a coherent overarching concept.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77089-430-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?