A fresh, welcome new interpretation of the French Revolution.



A veteran chronicler of French history follows the wild-eyed forces that impelled the Revolution as well as the troubling aspects that kept them from meeting their goals.

Wisely, in order to help readers grasp the enormity of historical currents converging at this moment in the late 18th century, Popkin (Chair, History/Univ. of Kentucky; From Herodotus to H-Net: The Story of Historiography, 2015, etc.) uses two real characters to help illustrate his points. On one hand, Louis XVI was the “living symbol of the hereditary privileges and social inequalities the revolutionaries were determined to overturn.” He grew up to believe he was the country’s patriarch and that, as he said, “every profession contribute[ed], in its own way, to the support of the monarchy.” On the other hand, a young glazier named Jacques-Louis Ménétra would have been lumped into what became the powerful force of the “Third Estate”—i.e., everyone who was not royal or clergy. In contrast to the upper classes, who focused intently on maintaining the rigid status quo, commoners such as Ménétra seemed at the mercy of erratic fluctuations in received ideas from the press as well as yearly harvests, the whims of landlords, prices of food, and collective violence. Yet, as Popkin astutely points out, “even if few of them could read and write, peasants had a strong sense of their rights.” The growing crisis of the country’s bankruptcy, thanks in large part to Louis’ insistence on financing the American Revolution to spite rival England, meant forcing the king into reluctant, seesawing measures. The fomenting ideas of the Enlightenment, as epitomized in Diderot’s Encyclopédie (which Louis owned), were the same as those that spurred the Americans, but the outcome was violently different. The author underscores how the French example might have “foreshadowed totalitarian excesses more than social progress” and how liberty for some did not spell liberty for all, especially slaves and women.

A fresh, welcome new interpretation of the French Revolution.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-465-09666-4

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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