Brisk and illuminating, with much surprising information.



A swift overview of the history, design and functions of one of the world’s most recognizable buildings.

Although Hopkins (Ancient History/Univ. of Cambridge) did not live to see the publication of this work (he died in March 2004), his collaboration with Beard (Classics/Univ. of Cambridge) is a happy one. Part of Harvard University Press’ “Wonders of the World” series, this volume does well what all such summary works should do: tell a compelling story, correct historical errors and common misconceptions, animate readers to pursue the subject further. The authors begin with some comments from a Victorian guidebook, then whisk us through some well-known literary works that involve the Colosseum (The Marble Faun, The Innocents Abroad). They also refer occasionally to popular culture—Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator (2000), Paul McCartney’s 2003 concert in the ruin—and they endeavor, always, to keep in mind that most readers are not classical scholars. We learn that colosseum is a medieval term (the Romans called it the “Amphitheatre” or the “Hunting Theatre”); that Nero neither sat nor fiddled there (it was erected after his death); and that there is no contemporaneous evidence that Christians ever fed lions there (these accounts were written some centuries later). The authors explore what is known about gladiatorial combat, pointing out that there is more to these deadly contests than Hollywood would have us believe. It’s not definite, for instance, which way the Romans turned their thumbs to signal life or death. The authors attempt to explain the overall design of the building (above and below ground), but their efforts are hampered not only by the great ongoing debate about that very complex question but also by an insufficient number of supporting illustrations. A final chapter offers practical information for tourists.

Brisk and illuminating, with much surprising information.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-674-01895-8

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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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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