IN THE BEGINNING

THE ADVENT OF THE MODERN AGE, EUROPE IN THE 1840'S

Blum (formerly History/Princeton; the scholarly The End of the World Order in Rural Europe, etc.—not reviewed) offers a detailed, if pedestrian, analysis of a remarkable decade. The 1840's were, Blum says, ``the most amazing epoch the world has yet seen''—because of the geniuses of thought and technology who then came of age. The author devotes the first half of his study to some of these figures. He highlights the pioneers of the railroad, telegraph, and penny-post, among other innovations, arguing that they created a communications revolution that changed the lives of ordinary people and allowed a new kind of society to develop. Blum also details the work of social reformers like Shaftesbury and of radicals like Marx and Proudhon. He outlines a stimulating—though hardly original—critique of the Romantic Movement, showing it as leading to the realism of a Courbet and a Dickins, as well as to nationalism. In the worlds of science and learning, Blum introduces us to giants like Humboldt, Helmholtz, Faraday, and Darwin, plus leaders in modern medicine, the social sciences, and economics. The author then looks at the political changes that took place in the five great European nations: Great Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Here, again, he concentrates on individuals, making them come alive through his use of humor and anecdote. Blum is no friend of the ancien rÇgime and, at times, he's overly keen to apply a Marxist critique—e.g., in his contempt for the religious motivations of early social reformers and in his reliance on the theme of the rising middle class (when has a middle class not been rising?). Moreover, he passes mechanically from one subject to the next—but, by book's end, readers have been treated to a mass of interesting information and introduced to an assembly of outstanding personages. Thought-provoking, if dry, historical fare for the intelligent nonexpert.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-684-19567-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1993

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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