Diligent deconstruction of a shipwreck and a scandal.




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 20, 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...


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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