A lively, fitting tribute to “mankind’s first international ‘big science’ project.”

A scientific adventure tale in which astronomers risk their lives, traveling the high seas in winter, trekking over ice-bound Siberia and facing deadly diseases.

Anderson (“Shakespeare” by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare, 2005) examines the scope of the 18th-century international project to determine the distance between the earth and the sun by measuring the transit of the planet Venus across its surface. He compares it to recent investigations like the mapping of the human genome, NASA's Apollo program and the building of the Large Hadron Collider. In 1761 and again in 1769, teams of astronomers circumnavigated the globe to make precise measurements of the transit. Although England, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia were at war, they collaborated on this major scientific venture, a once-in-a-century opportunity. In both years, Venus was observed and timed as it appeared to traverse the sun, using trigonometric calculations to triangulate the distance. Anderson writes that this was a marriage of advanced science and technology with extreme adventure, resulting in spinoffs such as the development of precision timekeepers and the reliable calculations of longitude. The achievement was commemorated by “the Apollo 15 mission…command module [which] was named Endeavour”—after Captain Cook's ship—and carried “a block of wood from the sternpost of [his] original HMS Endeavour.” In 1769, the ship carried England's crew and succeeded in its mission, despite suffering the tragic deaths of most of its scientific crew. While the trigonometric calculations were state-of-the-art, if tedious, transporting the telescopic equipment, building observatories on the spot, making the observations and braving the rigors of the journey were anything but.

A lively, fitting tribute to “mankind’s first international ‘big science’ project.”

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-82038-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012


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


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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