A sweeping but flawed history of a world defined by contradictions and conflict.



How 70 years of profound political, social, and cultural change resulted directly from World War II.

In an ambitious history, Lowe (Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, 2013, etc.) follows his study of the anarchy and devastation of postwar Europe with an overview of the effects of the war globally. Each of the chapters begins with the story of an individual who “was profoundly affected” by the events of the war. These case studies serve as a springboard for generalizations “about why our cities look the way they do today, why our communities are becoming so diverse, and why our technologies have developed in the way they have.” The author argues, diffusely, that attitudes about human rights, efforts to reform our economic system, frustrated policies to achieve world peace, and unresolved quarrels and civil conflicts all result from the war. Lowe divides the book into sections: the war’s generation of myths and legends, such as the hero, the martyr, and the victim; the striving for a Utopian future, “rational, enlightened and peaceful”; efforts toward international cooperation in economics, government, and law; the emergence of the U.S. and Soviet Union as polarizing superpowers; dreams of self-determination that gave rise to nationalist movements in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Israel, and Europe; and the “destructive legacies” that led to fragmentation and atomization, resulting in economic inequality and divisive identity politics. Lowe crafts interesting case histories of those he chooses as representative of these themes, but he finds himself tangled in contradictions throughout. The myth of communal rebirth, for example, “came into conflict with the myths of individual nations.” Campaigns for equal rights were undermined by “the conservative tendencies of normal human nature.” The author’s claim that the war “united almost everyone in a general understanding of what was right and what was wrong” is contradicted by his revelation of pervasive ideological struggles, including “the conflict between the urge to draw together as one, and the urge to fragment into different and ever smaller groups.”

A sweeping but flawed history of a world defined by contradictions and conflict.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-04395-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?