Many scrambled historical eggs conceal the Bacon. (32 b&w illustrations)



Did Roger Bacon (c. 1214–92) compose a mysterious manuscript featuring drawings of plants that don’t exist, some with naked women inside and symbols never satisfactorily explained by some very dedicated and imaginative cryptanalysts? Who knows?

Beginning with their subtitle, the Goldstones (Slightly Chipped, 1999, etc.) can’t resist the superlative whenever they offer an adjective or adverb. Lots of most’s and -est endings here: for example, “William and Elizabeth Friedman . . . generally considered the greatest cryptanalysts who ever lived.” It’s most annoying, particularly since the fascinating story does not need any additional hype from inflected modifiers. The so-called Voynich Manuscript, now housed at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, has defied translation for centuries, despite the efforts of the celebrated and the merely curious. The authors have several purposes: to burnish Bacon’s tarnished reputation (at the end they call him one of science’s “most significant and irreplaceable figures”), to describe this truly bizarre 200-plus-page manuscript, to chart its provenance and to outline its social and religious contexts. The latter goal, unfortunately, receives the most attention, as the Goldstones (Will and Ariel Durant Lite) take us through the histories of philosophy, religion and science. It seems that every person they mention merits a biographical detour in the narrative, to such an extent that readers may forget their original destination. Still, it’s interesting to follow the struggles of the early Christian church with the inconveniences of scientific reasoning and discovery. (Repression was the church’s default response.) And it’s illuminating to read about Roger Bacon (often confused with the later Francis), who did indeed try to reconcile reason and experimentation with revelation and faith. He emerges here as a subject worthy of a much more lengthy and comprehensive treatment. Compelling, too, are the Goldstones’ accounts of myriad but unfruitful attempts by some very bright people to break the code.

Many scrambled historical eggs conceal the Bacon. (32 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-7679-1473-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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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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