An impassioned, big-picture primer ideal for college students.




The great ideas and personalities of the Enlightenment condensed and compressed for accessible consumption.

The unleashing of the human mind from orthodoxy ushered in one of the most exciting periods in history, and consummate historian Burns (Emeritus, Government/Williams Coll.; Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court, 2009, etc.) proves a lively guide to the great currents of Enlightenment thought, from the justification of civil society by the gloomy theorist Thomas Hobbes to the clash over slavery and abolition in America’s Civil War. As announced by Martin Luther’s nailing of his Theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517, the mind of man was the measure of all things, and only through rigorous empirical tests could ideas be tried and accepted. The received teachings of the medieval church were discarded in favor of “natural philosophy,” and men, although brutish, according to Hobbes, were governed by reason and “motivated to join together in a social compact by fear and the desire for self-preservation.” From Descartes, Spinoza and Locke, among numerous others, ideas of liberty, free thought and speech, religious toleration, and the ability of each individual to transform himself through environment, education and experience shook the “fixity and fatalism” of the Old World, unloosening the bedrock of absolutism and playing out successively in the English civil war, the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Burns maneuvers gracefully through these cataclysmic events, weaving in minibiographies of the notables and significant currents like the Scottish national school system, which gave rise to the stunning contributions of Scottish Enlightenment thinkers like Francis Hutcheson, David Hume and Adam Smith. Happiness, property, reform, universal suffrage: The author traces these key concepts to our own era, still worthy of fighting for, as evidenced by the recent events of the Arab Spring.

An impassioned, big-picture primer ideal for college students.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-02489-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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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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