Swashbuckling tales from the history of European competition for control of Central Asia. Beginning in the 1820s, Great Britain and Czarist Russia became convinced that their fates lay in that vast and mainly unexplored expanse of land from Iran to China. From its colonial jewel in India, Great Britain feared Russia’s inexorable march through Central Asia to its colonial borders, Russia of course feared Great Britain’s inexorable march to its own borders, and both were driven by the Kiplingesque desire to bring “civilization” to a benighted people. And so, as one contemporary termed it, the “great game” was afoot, via war, espionage, adventure, and a cast of characters as bizarre as any Indiana Jones film could assemble. Journalist Meyer (The Plundered Past, 1973, etc.) and documentary filmmaker Blair Brysac denounce the game as foolish and in the end largely futile for either side, but they quite enjoy telling the tales of the men and women who played it: the British horse doctor who spent five years exploring Tibet, Afghanistan, and Bokhara; the mad Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky; Madame Blavatsky, the Russian founder of Theosophy who played a mysterious role in the intrigues of Central Asia; Sven Hedlin, the Swedish explorer and Nazi favorite who lived for years in Tibet and fed the Fuhrer’s odd fascination with that land. Rogues, fools, mystics, and the occasional wise observer are all finely etched here. This is a cautionary tale as well, for as little as the great game profited Great Britain and imperial Russia (the authors avert their eyes from its effects on the peoples of Central Asia), it continued to be played by the United States and the Soviet Union with disastrous results—witness the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and unleashing of religious zealotry in the region with which the US must now contend. A ripping, timely, and perceptive yarn. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-58243-028-4

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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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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