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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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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