Entertaining popular history.



A social historian explores the “intellectual consequences” of the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, which “nudg[ed] Europeans toward modern ways of thinking about their planet.”

Appleby (History, Emeritus/UCLA; The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism, 2010, etc.) makes the assertion that “the most significant consequence of the age of discovery is the awakening of curiosity among Europeans about the world in which they lived.” Not only was the geography of the known world stretched to include North and South America, but the biblical narrative of the Creation and God's purpose were also challenged. Thinkers raised the question of whether or not the Creation was a one-time event, considering the existence of human civilization in far-flung places. Some Christian missionaries condemned the brutality practiced by conquistadors, and Paul III issued a papal bull prohibiting the forced enslavement of native populations. Unfortunately, the argument became moot when millions of Native Americans were killed by European diseases and African slaves were forced by their European conquerors to work on plantations and gold mines. On the positive side, the widening of European horizons spurred intellectual curiosity, as well as the expanded knowledge needed to circumnavigate the globe—e.g., mapmaking, measuring the circumference of the Earth, astronomical knowledge and the determination of longitude. In fact, the attitude toward knowledge itself changed. “A passion for collecting information through observations, measurements, descriptions, and depictions of new phenomena grew stronger,” writes the author, replacing the scholarly focus on received wisdom. Appleby points out that in the beginning of the 17th century, Italian friar Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake when he challenged received wisdom, but by its end, “Newton laid the foundation for modern physical science.” A quick traverse over time leads the author to Darwin and the conclusion that Columbus' discovery hastened the tempo of intellectual discovery. “Over the course of four centuries,” she writes, “studying natural phenomena became an activity defining western modernity while loosening the hold of religious dogma over scientific inquiry.”

Entertaining popular history.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-23951-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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