Revisionist history with a central thesis that the Crusades were among the direct determinants of latter-day strife in the Middle East. A former nun who spent seven years in an English convent, Armstrong (Through the Narrow Gate, 1981; Beginning the World, 1983), relies solely on secondary sources and insights gained during a 1983 sojourn in Israel (as producer of a Tv series on early Christianity) to make her arguable case and collateral allegations. While she offers an interpretive account of the campaigns undertaken by European soldiers of the cross in the Holy Land from 1095 through 1291, she is at least as concerned with the present and recent past, according equal attention to the modern world in general and the embattled Middle East in particular. She also offers quirky perspectives on the global village's three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. With the deadly earnestness of a true believer, Armstrong (who is at pains to note she is no longer a believing or observant Christian) reaches any number of arresting conclusions. Characterizing the Crusades as ``a vicious Western initiative,'' she asserts, for instance, that there probably would have been no Jewish state in the Middle East if not for the perdurable anti-Semitism engendered in Europe by eastward marches during the Middle Ages. In like vein, she suggests that today's Israelis draw belligerent inspiration from the castles, churches, and cities left by Crusaders as reminders of a colonial movement that tried to establish itself in a hostile Muslim environment with powerful backing from the West. At the same time, she insists, contemporary Arabs (who despise Zionists ``as either new Crusades or as tools of Western imperialism'') continue to look for another Saladin's advent. In Armstrong's book, moreover, the Crusades (or their evangelical spirit) are a root cause of the Inquisition, the Nazi Holocaust, and a host of other recorded disasters-secular as well as militantly ecclesiastic. While the author may have lost her own vocation, she does not shrink from asking prospective pilgrims to take rather a lot on faith. The provocative, albeit tedious, text (previously published in the UK) has six helpful maps.

Pub Date: April 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-24193-3

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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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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