A fascinating tale: like all good historical writing, this brings to life both the strangeness and the humanity of people...



The well-made story of a treason investigation in 18th-century China, by Yale historian Spence (Mao Zedong, 1999).

Highly centralized governments churn out one product hateful to contemporaries but priceless to scholars: paperwork. The immense archives preserved by generations of Chinese bureaucrats have proved a gold mine to historians such as Spence, whose obscure but well-documented story begins in 1728 when a provincial governor was handed a letter denouncing the emperor. Arrested and interrogated, the bearer named others involved, and a torrent of paperwork followed. The loyal governor reported every detail to the emperor, who demanded more details, which the governor hastened to provide. The emperor then ordered provincial governors throughout China to arrest those named (and their families—in China, everyone shares a relative’s guilt). Their interrogations, in turn, produced more evidence of disloyalty, more names, and more reports, as a stream of prisoners poured into the capital for further interrogation. None of the accused had plotted to take action against the emperor; their offense was merely to spread unflattering rumors about him, to complain in private diaries, to read or write poetry that cast the dynasty in an unflattering light. No matter: Imperial China was positively Stalinist (or Maoist?) in its demand for absolute loyalty in thought as well as deed. Spreading a false rumor was criminal, but originating it was treason. Spence records the prodigious effort, manpower, and documentation that the Imperial government devoted to tracking down and punishing its critics (and their families). What is truly creepy about his story is how much of it was told (with a straight face) on the official record.

A fascinating tale: like all good historical writing, this brings to life both the strangeness and the humanity of people from a previous era.

Pub Date: March 5, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89292-0

Page Count: 289

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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