An original, curious subject rendered in readable prose.

A layman’s-terms explanation of the mysterious outbreak of a hysterical dance that seized people in the Middle Ages.

Synthesizing a great deal of scholarly material—mostly in German and Latin—on the dancing malady that broke out along the Rhine during times of great social and economic stress, Waller (History of Medicine/Michigan State Univ.; The Real Oliver Twist, 2005, etc.) covers the academic subject matter in lively, simplified language. The author concentrates in particular on the dancing frenzy that swept through Strasbourg in the summer of 1518, eventually claiming hundreds of lives. The outbreak was the culmination of enormous upheaval in Europe on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, and Waller carefully reconstructs the desperate social milieu of the era. Poor harvests triggered famine; devastating diseases such as syphilis and small pox were perceived as evidence of God’s wrath; excesses by the clergy had engendered a simmering peasant rebellion; and a deeply ingrained, vicious misogyny provoked hysterical symptoms in women. Frau Troffea, the first “choreomaniac,” began to dance on July 14, 1518. She couldn’t stop and soon others had caught on, descending into a kind of trance. The dancing was contagious and uncontrollable, rather than joyful, and Waller attributes it to a flight from extreme psychological distress. Martin Luther’s subsequent push for reformation of the Church helped alleviate the peoples’ “spiritual despair,” and the dancing madness did not reoccur in the same form—though Waller helpfully traces trancelike spiritual outpourings in later forms, such as among the Quakers, Shakers and even participants in the modern rave scene.

An original, curious subject rendered in readable prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4022-1943-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009


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


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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