A bit of a stretch, but it’s a light-pedaling, virtuosic work of epistemology.



An ambitious, if not entirely successful, synthesis of the old-fashioned, pious ideals of Sebastian Bach and the newfangled values of the enlightened monarch Frederick the Great.

Gaines’s history of the dawning Enlightenment in the German states is dazzling but somewhat fractured, since Frederick was twenty-seven years older than Bach and the two didn’t actually meet until Bach was 62, three years before his death in 1750. That meeting, in Potsdam, between the foremost adherent of the esoteric theory of counterpoint and the fashionable, not-easily-impressed philosopher king proved “the tipping point,” Gaines asserts, “between ancient and modern culture in the West” and resulted in Bach’s magisterial closing statement, The Musical Offering. American journalist Gaines (Wit’s End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table, 1977), now Paris-based, ranges across the century in order to capture the backgrounds of the men: first, we have Bach’s Baroque roots in a long line of church musicians from Thuringia, culminating in his post as Royal Composer to the Leipzig court; then we have Frederick’s ascension to the Hohenzollern throne at twenty-eight, after a childhood under the abusive treatment of his autocratic father. The education of the crown prince makes the more compelling story, as he hides his love of music and all things French and eventually is imprisoned for plotting to flee his father’s violent treatment. But chapters on Bach—however mesmerizing to the musician—tend to mire down in notions of making “sermons in sound” and theories of composition. Bach’s work wasn’t published or played outside of Leipzig until long after his death, while the world considered his son Carl (C.P.E. Bach), Frederick the Great’s keyboard composer for thirty years, the greater musician. In the end, Frederick steals the show here as Gaines offers up a twin-faceted treatment of the ideas of the age—in a work that’s not easily classifiable as music or history but is composed with a refreshingly nonscholarly flourish.

A bit of a stretch, but it’s a light-pedaling, virtuosic work of epistemology.

Pub Date: March 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-00-715658-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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