A valuable, well-observed work of history and geography.



An exploration of the role of rivers in sustaining humankind.

Rivers, writes environmental scientist Smith, are in the eye of the beholder. Their value is often not evident to us except in the biggest of pictures, which is why the current generations of humans continue to dam them, fill them with pollutants and plastic bottles, and otherwise mistreat them. “Only by taking the long view is their deeply foundational importance to human civilization revealed,” writes the author. This book takes that long view while also pointing to a few encouraging trends (and some discouraging ones as well). On the positive side is the increasing tendency of city governments to undertake projects of riverfront renewal, making parks and refuges where docks and warehouses used to stand—a good thing given, as Smith points out, that sometime in 2008, the majority of the human population shifted, for the first time, from the countryside to the city. Still, notes the author, rivers remain underappreciated, shaping us in ways that are not always easy to discern. For example, they help form cultural and ethnic borders that in turn define nations, and they provide avenues of conquest, exploration, and migration: "Rivers, and physical geography more generally, contribute to the size and shapes of nations and thus the geospatial pattern of economic and military power around the world." When rivers play out, as in the case of ancient Uruk and the urban civilizations of the pre-European American Southwest, then cultures collapse, something to think about given the increasingly evident effects of worldwide climate change on the world’s rivers—some of which will dry up, others of which will flood as weather patterns change. Smith examines historical precedents along the Nile, Yangtze, and other rivers to project how these drivers of history, “supercharged fuel lines” of planetary energy, will affect the future.

A valuable, well-observed work of history and geography.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-41200-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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