Aficionados of early medieval history—and of course Ravenna itself—will learn much from Herrin’s work.

RAVENNA

CAPITAL OF EMPIRE, CRUCIBLE OF EUROPE

The early life and times of an Italian city that sometimes threatened to overshadow Rome.

Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast near Venice and Bologna, served as an outpost in the days of the Roman Republic. When Visigoths and other outlanders descended on Rome, Ravenna seemed a promising stronghold, “partly because it was considered impregnable and partly because of its large port,” as emerita professor of classics Herrin writes. After the fall of Rome, it steadily gained importance, first as a center of Gothic power and then as a tributary city of Byzantium and an entrepôt with strong ties to the Eastern Roman empire. “This strength,” Herrin observes, “was rooted in its threefold combination of Roman law and military prowess, Greek education and culture and Christian belief and morality.” She examines each of these pillars in turn. Roman power steadily declined over the centuries until Alaric stormed the gates in 410 C.E., but Ravenna remembered the lessons of its rule, eventually establishing colonies of its own in many parts of the former empire, especially in Sicily. More powerful than any other institution was the church, so strong that rivalries with the papal headquarters in Rome were not uncommon. Of particular interest to students of early Christian history is Ravenna’s emergence as a node of Arian worship—though, Herrin writes, eventually that “heresy” would be suppressed at the order of Byzantine Emperor Justin, “a symptom of the much greater intolerance that would later result in outright persecution of minorities.” The bonds with the Eastern Roman Empire would eventually break, but the centuries of affiliation explain why even today so many people travel to Ravenna to see Byzantine art, so widely destroyed elsewhere. Even in later medieval times, adds the author, “the mosaicked churches of Ravenna…continued to inspire transalpine visitors as they became monastic centres, ensuring their preservation while all around the palaces of secular power crumbled.”

Aficionados of early medieval history—and of course Ravenna itself—will learn much from Herrin’s work.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-691-15343-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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