A useful study, though less interesting than John Reader’s Africa: A Biography of the Continent (1998).



Broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics.

Former Observer correspondent and longtime Africa expert Meredith (Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life, 2011, etc.) delivers a richly detailed, occasionally plodding examination of a region of the world that, though central to human history, is too often overlooked, except by the economic powers that be—the World Bank estimates that 40 percent of Africa’s wealth is held outside Africa. Concludes Meredith, “Africa thus remains a continent of huge potential, but limited prospects.” People have always moved from place to place across the continent looking for access to its resources, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in vast waves, as when the Bantu-speaking peoples who originally lived in southern Cameroon spread across southern Africa. Yet, by Meredith’s account, once those resources are in hand, they are always unevenly divided; the peasants of ancient Egypt may have had access to the water wheel and an elaborate system of irrigation, but they were also subject to an even more elaborate system of taxation “that kept them as poor as they had always been.” That situation did not improve with the spread of Christianity and Islam, nor with the arrival of the colonial powers and the conversion of a vast part of the continent to a factory for the production of slaves for trans-Atlantic transport. As Meredith writes, by the 1600s, the European powers were looking far inland for slaves and had established great trading ports along Africa’s west coast, “separated from one another by an average of ten miles.” Small wonder that, absent so much human and natural capital, Africa has been immiserated for so long—a condition not improved by the widespread pattern of one-party or one-man rule today.

A useful study, though less interesting than John Reader’s Africa: A Biography of the Continent (1998).

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-459-8

Page Count: 704

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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