It takes considerable courage and incontrovertible evidence to propose, as Bossy (History/Univ. of York) does, that Giordano Bruno, an Italian ``national saint'' burned at the stake in 1600 for defying the Pope, spent three years (1583-86) as an anti- Catholic spy at the pro-papal French Embassy in London. According to Bossy, Bruno—an excommunicated Neapolitan friar who sometimes used the alias of a priest named Henry Fagot—served the religious needs of the ambassador's family and of the English Catholic sympathizers who found refuge at the embassy, birthplace of the conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth I and release Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned for the past 19 years. As Fagot, Bruno claimed that he learned of the plot during confession, leading to the arrest, torture, and ultimately the execution of several English noblemen and contributing to the decision to execute Mary as well. If this story is true, then Bruno was not just a spy but a fraud, impersonating a priest, and a traitor, betraying the French king and the ambassador, and all of this for rather vague reasons—neither for money nor power but to undermine the credibility of the papacy and because it appealed to his taste for practical jokes. From this story, it is difficult to tell how Bruno acquired his reputation for brilliance, charm, wit, courage, and integrity, for Bossy depicts a ``smart operator'' and a ``dishonorable'' one, argumentative, abrasive, the author of ``soporific'' dialogues whose speculations on science and cosmology were eccentric and unoriginal. Regrettably, the significance of Bruno and even of the conspiracy is lost in Bossy's presentation- -obscure, convoluted, turgid, weighted with chronologies, false clues, obfuscation, irrelevant letters, artificially designed mysteries—such as a whole chapter arguing for the ``coincidence'' of Fagot and Bruno's similarities when Bossy is about to reveal that they are the same man. However correct his facts, however indisputable his conclusions, Bossy compromises them by his melodramatic presentation—which is probably more suitable to fiction. A bewildering and frustrating read. (Illustrations.)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 1991

ISBN: 0-300-04993-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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