For fans of Austen and English history, a deeply informative picture of Regency life.



It wasn’t all courtship, corsets and carriages—the grim reality behind a great author’s world.

Jane Austen (1775–1817) was more genius than realist, delicately creating a world richer in psychological insight than in documented reality. In this cultural history of Austen’s era, Roy and Lesley Adkins (Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy, 2009, etc.) show the England that Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse never much discussed. It was a society where life was nasty, brutish, short and smelly. Standards for cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene were abysmal, and there was no running water. Not only did homes easily burn, but there was also no bathing as we know it. (“What dreadful hot weather we have!” Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra. “It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”) Chamber pots were emptied out of windows, people urinated on the street, toilet paper did not exist, and women had little (and some nothing) in the way of sanitary protection. Superstition prevailed over medicine; one diarist describes trying to cure a sty by rubbing it with the tail of a cat. No one in Austen’s day had teeth like Emma Thompson or Colin Firth; some, like Dorothy Wordsworth, were toothless by the age of 30. The poor had it worse, especially children; provided they survived infancy, they were often consigned to a barbaric existence working in the mines or sweeping chimneys. Austen didn’t write entirely in a vacuum, of course, and the Adkins’ frequently point out just where her novels reflect the domestic and social world she knew, particularly as in regards to clothing, footwear and social customs. The authors let their facts tell the story, which is a wise choice given the often bland writing style.

For fans of Austen and English history, a deeply informative picture of Regency life.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-78584-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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