General readers will leave better informed but little wiser.



A comprehensive chronicle of the collection and uses of information during the last six centuries.

Prolific historian Black (History/Exeter Univ.; War and Technology, 2013, etc.) sets out to explain how the acquisition and uses of information since the late Middle Ages contributed to the development of cultures around the world and to Western cultural, political and military hegemony. During this period, the nature and perception of information changed as reliance on classical and ecclesiastical authority gave way to a greater respect for empirical facts. Governments needed information primarily for taxation and military purposes, and businesses used it to expand trading opportunities. As more, and timelier, information became available, new uses for it emerged, and new demands as well. For example, in the 20th century, "understanding and addressing social problems and economic issues on an unprecedented scale became of greater importance for governments than heretofore and helped direct their engagement with information gathering.” These developments built on one another, particularly in the West, though Black devotes much attention to tracking similar developments in Asian and Islamic societies as well. Despite these nods to multiculturalism, the author is compelled to admit that advances in information gathering and processing ultimately faltered there, or as he puts it, these "technologies were open to all Westerners but were only slowly or poorly adopted by non-Westerners….The ability to gather, manipulate and deploy information therefore gave the Western nations a distinct and significant strategic advantage." Erudite and prolix, this is a book by an academic for other academics. Clearly the product of exhaustive research, it is a torrent of facts but, ultimately, to no clear purpose. Far more valuable and readable would have been a more selective use of facts to support an overarching thesis, but nothing of the sort ever emerges; it is all trees and no forest.

General readers will leave better informed but little wiser.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-16795-5

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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