A delightful book that is just plain fun to read, packed with all kinds of curious facts and oddities.



Gordon (An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power, 2004) uses a history of the Washington Monument to present an enjoyable tale of Egypt’s obelisks, the nations who appropriated them, and how they moved them.

The author interlaces the story of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, the “tallest structure, by law,” in Washington, D.C., with the tales of ancient Rome, Paris, and London, civilizations that collected as much of Egypt’s antiquity as possible. The book is stuffed with interesting facts, not the least of which are the ingenious methods used to lower, transport, and re-erect the obelisks. Napoleon, even in his military failure in Egypt, mounted a major scientific expedition responsible for finding the Rosetta Stone. It was the carvings on an obelisk that enabled Jean-François Champollion to utilize the stone to decipher hieroglyphics. From the time of Caesar Augustus to the erection of Cleopatra’s Needle in New York’s Central Park, humans have found ways to roll, float, tow, and tip these multiton objects in spaces public and private. One of the smallest obelisks was discovered by England’s great Egyptologist William John Bankes, and it stands today in his gardens in Dorset. Once construction began, Washington’s edifice took 40 years to build. Although it was originally proposed in 1783, actual construction did not begin until 1848. Attempting to secure private funding only held the project back until Congress finally agreed to support it with a grant in 1876. The design was decried as a factory chimney or a stalk of asparagus, but the finished product, with no ornamentation save for an aluminum (more fun facts here) pyramid atop to reflect sunlight, dominates the city and serves as a wonderful symbol of the United States.

A delightful book that is just plain fun to read, packed with all kinds of curious facts and oddities.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-650-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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