Fascinatingly recondite, but also fairly deadening: scarcely useable or even readable for most pleasure travelers.




De Villiers and Hirtle (Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic, 2004, etc.) team up again to tackle the long, knotty history of a metropolis famed as the home of fabulous wealth and Islamic scholarship.

De Villiers assumes the personality of a jaunty traveler, while Hirtle is the intrepid archival scholar in this crammed account of the city in northwest Africa that “became a shorthand metaphor for a much greater body of stories and legends” about the Arab world. The popular Victorian expression “from here to Timbuktu” captures its perceived mystery and inaccessibility; indeed, even Timbuktu’s location, six miles from the source of the Niger River, prompted confusion in early explorers, who often thought the Niger was the Nile. Nomadic Tuareg herdsmen probably named the city after the well of Buktu around the 11th century—or the name might mean “woman with a large navel” in a local language. The authors present both possibilities, followed by a benumbing list of foreign emperors, kings and sultans, as the pre-Islamic Ghana-Wagadu kingdom gave way to waves of Arab invaders who made Timbuktu a crossroads of the trans-Saharan commercial trade, attracting gold and holy men from the Maghreb. The great kingdom of Mansa Musa (1312–1332) was succeeded by Tuareg, then Songhai rulers. Timbuktu became an important center of learning with extensive libraries (now being preserved). The Moroccan invasion of 1590 ushered in a decline later exacerbated by militant jihadists and European colonizers. The authors attempt to lighten the load of all this convoluted history with modern “travelers’ tales,” depicting Timbuktu today as decrepit and dusty but still unusually polyglot and ethnically diverse. A few contemporary anecdotes, however, can’t disguise the fact that this is essentially an academic resource for bookish trekkers.

Fascinatingly recondite, but also fairly deadening: scarcely useable or even readable for most pleasure travelers.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1497-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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