An ideal companion volume for readers of the Tales and a useful stand-alone history of the period.




What was it like to live in 14th-century England?

Historian Picard (Victorian London, 2005, etc.) continues her series of books that provide insightful, detailed, and entertaining examinations of life in England, and London in particular. Her latest goes back to the 1300s, when the country experienced turbulent times: war, a pandemic, rebellion, and regime change. As her jumping-off point, Picard uses Geoffrey Chaucer’s (1340-1400) “motley bunch” of pilgrims from his Canterbury Tales. During the two days of their journey (they never arrive), they share stories and experiences. Picard’s critical and close reading of the Tales and extensive historical research provide her with a wealth of information about the personalities of each pilgrim and their everyday lives. She divides them into four groups: country, city, religious life, and the armed services. First up is the “eye-catching” Wife of Bath. Picard delves into her marriages (five), her other pilgrimages—did she “benefit spiritually” from them? “Chaucer leaves us in doubt”—and her appearance, which then leads to a discussion of the wool trade. This is how the book is organized, with one topic cascading into another. Another example is the author’s description of the Sergeant of the Law’s appearance, followed by a discussion of the courts at this time: how they functioned, civil and criminal cases, land law, the Magna Carta, and so on. Most of the material is lively and highly instructive, though not many readers will be rushing to reproduce the many recipes included in the “Cook” section. Picard claims that Chaucer’s portrait of the monk is the “most vivid of any of the pilgrims,” and she suggests that the Knight’s young, “fashionable” squire is a portrait of Chaucer’s own son. “It’s pleasant,” she writes, “to think of a loving fatherly eye contemplating Thomas.” The author also gleefully notes those pilgrims who suffer the caustic “Chaucerian sting.”

An ideal companion volume for readers of the Tales and a useful stand-alone history of the period.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00229-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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