A sweeping, unique, truly world-spanning political and military history.



A sprawling global history, beginning in the 1750s, showing the incalculable impact of the drafting of written constitutions.

In this wildly ambitious, prodigiously researched work, Princeton history professor Colley, a winner of the Wolfson History Prize, traces how the proliferation of written constitutions coalesced with the rise of hybrid warfare—land and sea—thus protecting the rights of those who were soldiering as well as those affected by violent invasions. Aside from the Magna Carta, signed in 1215, written documents delineating the rights and duties of “citizens” were rare until the Enlightenment, when literacy increased across Europe and philosophers such as Montesquieu popularized ideas of political liberty and separation of powers. Even among monarchs like Russia’s Catherine the Great—who wrote and published the extensive Nakaz, or Grand Instruction, in 1767, modernizing the codes and laws of Russia—the era spawned countless paper documents that addressed complex matters of law, politics, and even literature and philosophy. Though occasionally unfocused, the narrative ranges widely and fascinatingly across continents and prominent historical figures, from Pasquale Paoli in Corsica to Simón Bolívar in South America to George Washington in the nascent U.S. In Europe, the constitution-writing frenzy hit its apex during the Napoleonic era. Especially groundbreaking is Colley’s study of the written documents of non-European nations—e.g., Haiti—and in far-flung locales like the South Pacific island of Pitcairn (thanks to a Scottish captain, the islanders adopted a true democracy in 1838, enfranchising both men and women). The author’s subchapter entitled “Why Were Women Left Out?” proves immensely elucidating. As Colley shows, many constitutions, such as the state of New Jersey’s, originally recognized the participation of women before excluding them. Because many of these documents were “deployed to offer recompense for adequate supplies of manpower, they tended to lay stress on what was viewed as a uniquely masculine contribution to the state, namely, armed service.”

A sweeping, unique, truly world-spanning political and military history.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-87140-316-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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