Literate and lucid—a fine complement and corrective to the ancient sources.




Lively study of the Peloponnesian War by noted classicist Roberts (Classics and History/City Coll. of New York; Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction, 2011, etc.).

In the author’s telling, both Athens and Sparta, despite having nursed long grudges, entered somewhat reluctantly into the long conflict that became known, “Athenocentrically,” as the Peloponnesian War. That designation came largely through Thucydides, who wrote a magnificent though sometimes-ponderous account of the struggle. Roberts adds to her predecessor’s eye for the telling detail a vigorous prose style: “This was a war that might well not have happened. The king of Sparta had no stomach for it, and his countrymen were anxious enough that they sent to Delphi throughout for reassurance even after they had voted for it.” Allowing people—well, free males, anyway—to vote on whether to go to war was a Spartan custom, not widely shared even in supposedly democratic states. But Roberts allows that, as Thucydides himself believed, things had gone too far to allow either side to back down from war. The author is a stickler for exactitude; here she points out that an ancient account is off, there that the terminology is wrong—the first decade of conflict is called the Archidamian War, she notes, after the Spartan king, but it was really the bellicose Athenian leader Pericles who deserves the rubric. Overall, she does a very good job of sorting out the complexities of the war, which came to involve not just Athens and Sparta, but also allies, willing and unwilling, throughout the Mediterranean, as well as contending ethnicities and, to complicate matters even further, the Persians, who would go on to make trouble for both sides. Roberts also connects the war to later historical developments, such as the forging of treaties among Greek powers in the following century and the crafting of the Socratic dialogues of Plato, whose Republic reiterates the old arguments over which kind of state was best, the Spartan or the Athenian.

Literate and lucid—a fine complement and corrective to the ancient sources.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-999664-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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

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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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