An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd.



A well-told narrative of the popular hysteria surrounding a mysterious, misogynist slasher who stalked London a century before the Ripper.

London physician Bondeson (The Two-Headed Boy, p. 851, etc.) provides a muscular recreation of the socially chaotic metropolis of 1790: street crime and vice were endemic among a dense populace, with professional policing in its infancy. A series of attacks on female pedestrians, in which a “vulgar-looking man” slashed at them with a knife while uttering profanities with a “tremulous eagerness,” was rapidly conflated into a “Monster mania,” aided both by the £100 reward offered by outraged Lloyd’s insurance broker John Angerstein and by the circulation of inexpensive bawdy prints (which first capitalized on the Monster’s tendency to slash his victims’ buttocks, then were used to cast aspersions on miscellaneous London ne’er-do-wells as Monster candidates). Finally, a fishmonger who was courting an early victim apprehended under suspicious circumstances one Rhynwick Williams, a shabby, impoverished artificial-flower maker with rude habits regarding women—who nonetheless had a strong alibi. After nearly suffering mob justice on several occasions (as had various of the falsely accused), Williams was convicted following two raucous trials, and he ultimately served several years in prison. Bondeson composes a narrative surprisingly attuned to the complexities of this example of popular mania. He maintains a droll voice, in keeping with the bawdy nature of many conflicting original sources. Duly noting the chauvinistic tenor of the time, he ably captures the constrained social circumstances of the young women who were Williams’s accusers, as well as such flamboyant personalities as Angerstein and, memorably, Williams’s opportunistic champion Theophilus Swift. The latter is a dissipated descendant of Jonathan Swift well known in London for his dueling and for his slanderous pamphleteering and whose mockery of victims and general incompetence in Williams’s second trial surely poisoned his chances. Bondeson also offers intelligent discussion of “epidemic hysteria and moral panic,” examining similar recurrences in England, France, and wherever else circus-like atmospheres obscured the realities of serial violence.

An attentive, subtle rendering of a strange historical episode, alternatively disturbing and absurd.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8122-3576-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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