Too many long lists of actions and reactions make the narrative drag, though the book is historically enlightening enough to...



Molesky (History/Seton Hall Univ.; co-author: Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France, 2004) chronicles the history of the Portuguese Empire up to the catastrophic series of events beginning Nov. 1, 1755.

To fully appreciate the utter devastation of the earthquakes, tsunamis, and fire that ravaged Lisbon that year, readers must also understand Portugal’s vast wealth during the time period. Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India just before 1500 opened the country’s first golden age, which drew all of Europe to trade for pepper, spices, porcelain, gemstones, wood, and skins. However, her empire dwindled with the Restoration War in 1668 and widespread incursions by the Dutch. Portugal’s second golden age began with the Brazilian discovery of gold, emeralds, and diamonds at the end of the 17th century. By this time, Lisbon was one of the most ostentatiously wealthy cities in Europe, allied only to England to ensure defense from ever threatening Spain and France. At about 9:45 a.m. on All Saints Day 1755, three successively longer earthquakes struck, catching the populace off guard on their ways to Mass. The total time elapsed was around 10 minutes. Walls and buildings fell, and candles lit for Mass, chimneys, and home cook fires started blazes throughout the city. Three tsunamis also struck, killing many more than the earthquakes. But it was the fire that finally leveled the city, destroying riches, records, art, and, eventually, the Portuguese Empire. The author teases readers in the beginning with the promising stories of two men who stepped in after the disaster: priest Gabriel Malagrida and the Marquês de Pombal. Unfortunately, their tales are minimized, replaced with anecdotal forewarnings, international lists of who-heard-what-when, accounts of offers (and refusals) of aid, and philosophical arguments about the reasons and causes of the disaster.

Too many long lists of actions and reactions make the narrative drag, though the book is historically enlightening enough to appeal to readers familiar with Lisbon and its history.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-26762-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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