A book whose worthy aim remains unfulfilled.

MYTH AMERICA

HISTORIANS TAKE ON THE BIGGEST LEGENDS AND LIES ABOUT OUR PAST

Skilled historians attempt to refute the myths and misstatements about the American past that add to the confusions and bitterness of today’s politics.

Edited by well-known Princeton historians Kruse and Zelizer, the collection includes an impressive roster of contributors, including Michael Kazin, Erika Lee, Ari Kelman, Akhil Reed Amar, Carol Anderson, Naomi Oreskes, and Eric M. Conway. Among the targets are a host of flawed yet widespread beliefs: that Native Americans have played no significant role in American history; the Southern border has been a sieve allowing the entry of dangerous immigrants; socialism is a foreign import; the New Deal and Great Society failed; voter fraud has been commonplace; feminism has aimed to destroy the American family. Some essays are especially compelling. Drawing from his recent book, Daniel Immerwahr analyzes the mistaken belief that the U.S. is not an empire. Lawrence W. Glickman’s exemplary contribution on White backlash shows how myths originate and how historians can identify them, evaluate their substance, and deal with their internal inconsistencies. However, too many of the essays are slapdash, and the text has no center. Contributors often fail to adequately explain how myths originate in kernels of fact and, more importantly, what human needs they satisfy, and the myths they evaluate are mostly those of today’s right wing—as if the left doesn’t possess its own set of myths that require deconstruction. Furthermore, too many contributors display more scorn than sober analysis, often engaging in mere dismissal of other arguments or ideological stances—e.g., “the really staunch Right wacko vote.” In some essays, the contributors don’t offer enough context or sufficient explanation for their decision to examine a particular myth. The result is a work that, lacking careful editorial oversight, is less coherent and credible than its serious purpose warrants—or as incisive as we would expect from its esteemed contributors.

A book whose worthy aim remains unfulfilled.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5416-0139-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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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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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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