Diligent deconstruction of a shipwreck and a scandal.

THE WRECK OF THE MEDUSA

THE MOST FAMOUS SEA DISASTER OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

A maritime disaster prompts unspeakable human behavior that has political ramifications in post-Napoleonic France.

The stranding of the frigate Medusa on a sandy shoal off the West African coast in the summer of 1816 was history’s most documented and controversial shipwreck before the sinking of the Titanic. Miles (David Jones, 1996) not only parses the event itself, but examines its broader impact on a French nation in sociopolitical turmoil as the deposed Napoleon was succeeded by a restored Bourbon, King Louis XVIII. The Medusa’s lifeboats could not accommodate everyone on board; some 147 passengers and crew were relegated to a makeshift raft. Captain Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys, whose neglect had caused the wreck, promised that five lifeboats would tow the raft to the coast, but it was soon cut loose and abandoned, apparently on his orders. In the two weeks that followed, violent conflict erupted on the raft between appointed leaders and the rest; dwindling supplies of water and food led to acts of cannibalism and, ultimately, outright murder of the injured and infirm to conserve resources for the fit. Only 15 survived. One of them, engineer Alexandre Corréard, coauthored a bestselling account of the Medusa disaster. Republican opponents of the restored monarchy seized on it as an example of royalist corruption and incompetence. Corréard’s book also inspired Romantic painter Théodore Géricault to produce the monumental The Raft of the Medusa, still one of the Louvre’s principal attractions. Miles ably marshals the sweep of these events and documents how Corréard’s text and Géricault’s painting ratcheted up the political conflict.

Diligent deconstruction of a shipwreck and a scandal.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-87113-959-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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