Still, the author provides a helpful chronicle of the traditions we hailed from and happily rebelled against.

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ARISTOCRATS

POWER, GRACE, AND DECADENCE: BRITAIN’S GREAT RULING CLASSES FROM 1066 TO THE PRESENT

A broad narrative history of British wealth and opulence since the Norman Conquest.

James (The Middle Class: A History) effectively digests an entire millennium of British aristocracy, from the cult of chivalry to the creaking irrelevance of peers hanging on by their gilded toenails in today’s House of Lords. The word “Great” in the title gives a notion of where the author stands: “Who or what will replace these men and women?” he writes. “The extinction of the Lords would create a vacuum in public life and a dangerous one.” They have served, above all, as a check on the sovereign’s power, strictures clearly set out in 1215 in the Magna Carta, which safeguarded inalienable rights and protected “freemen” from excessive, arbitrary taxation. The contract held the king to account, and a bicameral parliament ensued, containing an inherited House of Lords and elected members in the House of Commons. With myriad examples, James traces how the “great men of the realm,” namely aristocrats, would invoke that right to check the king, especially during the civil and religious wars. The creation of the Whigs, rebellious hotheads, and Tories, submissive to authority, occurred at this 17th-century juncture. But the power of the aristocrats, resting on landownership before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, was undergirded by the approval of the masses, who might also rise up (as in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381), or ape their masters, as demonstrated by the mores of the growing middle class. Most important, the aristocrats created a cultural legacy of grand homes, taste, fashion, art and sports. James attends to all the necessary historical strands, some of which American readers may find difficult to swallow.

Still, the author provides a helpful chronicle of the traditions we hailed from and happily rebelled against.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-61545-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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