Formidably researched, always readable, but necessarily incomplete. (55 b&w photos and maps)

AFRICA

A BIOGRAPHY OF THE CONTINENT

A grand attempt to illuminate the history of the “dark continent,” using an almost stunning blend of disciplines from geology to anthropology to agronomy.

Despite the breadth of the title, Reader (Missing Links, 1981, etc.) largely ignores Africa north of the Sahara—a significant lacuna. Still, any attempt to cover billions of years of history (never mind 50-plus countries), will always result in gaps, elisions, and exclusions. One can quibble with his extremely detailed treatment of human evolution—a subject he has written about extensively—or the relative short shrift he gives to modern African history, but it all comes down to a question of balance, and for the most part Reader does an admirable job of keeping his story rolling along. He begins right at the beginning with the formation of Earth and the primitive stirrings of life. Through an impressive mustering of scientific data, he recounts how changing conditions on the savanna opened a narrow niche that favored the evolution of hominids and eventually, through the relentless process of survival of the fittest, Homo sapiens. Reader is not so much a historian of dates and personalities, but of mass events and movements. He regards competition for resources, climatic shifts, geology and geography as infinitely more important in shaping history than any number of “great men” and their ideologies. For example, he sees slavery as a continent-wide catastrophe that drove everything from the rise of African kingdoms to the loss of the labor—and all that it could have created—of 11 million people, to the great South African diaspora that is usually attributed to the predations of Shaka Zulu. Once Africa entered the realm of formal, written history, the results have been almost unremittingly bleak. It’s an old mantra, but the price of European civilization has been enormously high. And the postcolonial era hasn’t been much better. That hairless hominid who spread out across the world has changed everything except his essential, animal self.

Formidably researched, always readable, but necessarily incomplete. (55 b&w photos and maps)

Pub Date: April 21, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-40979-3

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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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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