Best appreciated by readers with some grounding in ancient history, but lively enough to engage newbies as well.

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GHOST ON THE THRONE

THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND THE WAR FOR CROWN AND EMPIRE

Scholarly but colorful account of the toxic fallout from the untimely demise of a continent-striding conqueror.

Alexander the Great dreamed of “a single world-state stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean,” but died of a mysterious fever (possibly poisoned) on the eve of his campaign against the Arabs in 323 BCE. His inner circle of trusted military men were soon dividing the empire among them; Perdiccas, the senior officer to whom Alexander had passed his signet ring, hoped that he could maintain an equilibrium by giving grizzled veterans Craterus and Antipater control of Europe, while he oversaw Asia from Babylon, sidelining his main rival Ptolemy in Egypt (to which Ptolemy deftly hijacked Alexander’s legacy-imprinting corpse). Alas, writes Romm (Classics/Bard Coll.; Herodotus, 1998, etc.), “Alexander had…nurtured in his staff an endless appetite for command and conquest.” Allegiances changed rapidly, and the leaders’ fortunes depended largely on the erratic loyalty of Alexander’s soldiers, in particular the famed Silver Shields, who were capable of fighting a battle on one side, then abandoning their general to join the victor. To this volatile mix were added several strong-minded women: Alexander’s mother Olympias, scheming to marrying his sister Cleopatra to a general who could protect them, and his niece Adea, wife of his mentally deficient half brother Philip. As soon as word of Alexander’s death got out, Greek city-states led by Athens revolted, war-weary troops in Bactria (northern Afghanistan) mutinied and chaos threatened everywhere. The names can be as hard to keep straight as the marital and military maneuvers, but Romm paints a vivid portrait of ancient politics, which were highly personal and extremely deadly. The murders of Olympias, Cleopatra, Philip and Adea, as well as Alexander’s Bactrian widow and their son, put an end to Macedonia’s Argead dynasty and signaled the arrival of “a multipolar world marked by rivalry, shifting alliances, and long-running small-scale conflicts—in many ways, a world like our own.”

Best appreciated by readers with some grounding in ancient history, but lively enough to engage newbies as well.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-27164-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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