A broader array of semi-clad men—and a sharper focus—would have done Kasson and the reader a world of good. (80 b&w...

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HOUDINI, TARZAN, AND THE PERFECT MAN

THE WHITE MALE BODY AND THE CHALLENGE OF MODERNITY IN AMERICA

Men in loincloths and the crisis of modernity! What’s a turn-of-the-century boy to do?

Kasson (Rudeness and Civility, 2000) maintains that there was a metamorphosis of masculinity in the dawning years of the 20th century in America. By examining the lives of vaudeville star and bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, escape artist extraordinaire Erich Weiss (alias Harry Houdini), and Tarzan’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kasson argues that masculinity faced a turning point due to the upheavals of modernity. In response to these cultural changes, the symbol of the white male body became, paradoxically, the symbol both of modernity itself and of the resistance to the modern age. The author’s argument, however, fails to support such a profound and complex thesis. In his three main chapters (“Who Is the Perfect Man? Eugen Sandow and a New Standard for America,” “The Manly Art of Escape: The Metamorphoses of Ehrich Weiss,” and “ ‘Still a Wild Beast at Heart’: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Dream of ‘Tarzan’ ”), Kasson interprets these men as bellwethers of their time and place, exemplars of a particular vision of the virile white male body that assuaged anxieties about the changing world. A healthy sampling of photographs and illustrations do support the author’s interpretations and provide a vibrant picture of the changing image of masculinity—but, alas, two men who paraded around in loincloths and one who wrote about an ape-man offer precious little evidence for the foundation of an argument. Couple the paucity of subjects with a tendency to digress into biographies of these remarkable characters and that fascinating thesis gets lost in the shuffle.

A broader array of semi-clad men—and a sharper focus—would have done Kasson and the reader a world of good. (80 b&w photos and illustrations)

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8090-8862-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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