There’s no question that Wright has covered a lot of medical territory with good information; if only she had curbed her...




A lightweight history of plagues from an author who is “invested in this study…because I think knowing how diseases have been combatted in the past will be helpful in the future.”

Wright (It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History, 2015) injects her persona throughout the book, using asides to assert her opinions and invite reader agreement. So we learn that poor John Snow, the hero who persuaded London authorities in the 1850s to turn off the Broad Street pump and thus save the neighborhood from cholera, was a boring fellow she would never want to spend time with. On the other hand, many of her heroes or things they did were “cool,” a word that should have been banished from the text along with “fun.” However, Wright has done her homework. She begins with a second-century plague during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, which was probably smallpox and no doubt contributed to Rome’s eventual decline. The author then moves on to cover the more well-known horrors, including bubonic plague, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, polio, and leprosy. She also adds a chapter on the dancing plague of medieval times, which was unusual in that people treated the victims kindly and tried to help. The 20th century brought us Typhoid Mary and the Spanish flu of World War I. The flu was followed by the still-mysterious encephalitis lethargica (see Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings). The midcentury brought the polio vaccine but also a plague by another name: lobotomy. Wright notes that there were 40,000 lobotomies in the U.S. from the 1930s through the 1970s. Many of the operations were performed by Walter Freeman, whom Wright justifiably vilifies for his tireless promotion of the surgery for all mental ills. The author saves the AIDS epidemic for an epilogue as a worst-case scenario of society’s stigmatizing and blaming the victim, singling out the Reagan administration for its do-nothing approach.

There’s no question that Wright has covered a lot of medical territory with good information; if only she had curbed her enthusiasm to pontificate.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62779-746-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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