A significant work, though an abridgement could help spread the word.


A distinguished political scientist takes a broad view of democracy, speculating on both the lineage and the prospects of a cherished doctrine.

In the realm of the ideal, writes Keane (Politics/Univ. of Westminster; Violence and Democracy, 2004, etc.), democracy “was to be the government of the humble, by the humble, for the humble.” It was meant to remove power from the hands of the elite few fortunate enough, by accident of birth or property, to direct the lives of those less fortunate. Ideals, of course, do not often conform to reality, and in this long—indeed, a touch too long, making Karl Popper’s 800-page magnum opus The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) seem slender by comparison—treatise, Keane considers all the ways in which democracies have gone awry over the course of history. The author distinguishes numerous types of democracies, assembly and representative and, now, monitory—those born of movements to correct the ruling class on particular issues, such as civil rights for ethnic minorities. Provocatively, Keane extends the history of democracy beyond the walls of Athens, where, Western legend has it the idea of rule by the demos, the people writ large, was born. The author locates democratic ideas in ancient Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as Mycenae and other Mediterranean locales. Contradictions abound in those ideas: Can a slaveholding state such as Athens be democratic? Can Sparta, with impressed military service? Must a state be democratic to be prosperous? Keane’s explorations should occasion some rethinking—on, for instance, the history of India, which shows the possibilities of multiethnic democracies, and of Islam, which has a neglected democratic tradition. The author also isolates desiderata for fulfilling “the humbling ideal of democracy,” among them access to education, health care and livelihood—the sorts of things that champions of free-market democracy minimize as somehow socialistic.

A significant work, though an abridgement could help spread the word.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-3930-5835-2

Page Count: 1024

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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