Richly nuanced history relayed with enormous fondness.




The eminent British historian returns to a subject and place that inspired his first book 50 years ago.

The Normans in the South (1967) encapsulated Norwich’s (A History of England in 100 Places, 2011, etc.) fascination with the brief but strenuous Norman influence in Sicily (especially the architecture) and his astonishment at how little his readers knew about it. In this charming, elegiac volume, the author, now in his mid-80s, lays out the broad swath of conquest in Sicily, from the ancient Greeks to the American invasion as part of Operation Husky in World War II. Norwich gives special attention to the “golden age” of the 11th and 12th centuries under the Normans. Sicily is an enigmatic place, situated in the Mediterranean exactly between West and East, Africa and Europe, the Greek and Latin worlds, constantly overrun by competing interests much resented by its largely agrarian population. Indeed, Norwich finds this home of Mount Etna and the Mafia to be one of the saddest places in Europe, despite its gorgeous natural beauty and climate. Greek tyrants, Carthaginians (Carthage being right across the Strait of Sicily in today’s Tunis), Romans, Barbarians, Byzantines, Arabs: all left their marks in some fashion—e.g., the Arab expertise in terraced agriculture and irrigation and the introduction of many new lucrative crops like cotton and sugarcane. Stability was never in the Sicilian makeup, but rebelliousness was, and it took the Normans three decades to wrest control, largely driving out the Arabs in a show of new muscle against the Muslim-held lands of the southern Mediterranean. The domination by Spain, the Bourbons, and the threat of the French under Napoleon make for compelling chapters—especially the interlude between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton—as do the rise of the carbonari and the fascists.

Richly nuanced history relayed with enormous fondness.

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9517-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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