An exhaustively researched, thoroughly entertaining jaunt through the back alleys and teeming boulevards of Cairo, where the ancient world mingles daily with the modern. Rodenbeck, a Cairo resident and Middle East reporter for the Economist, has written an ambitious book that is neither straight history nor exotic travelogue, but an impressionistic, free-flowing combination of both. Early chapters detail Cairo’s geographic significance and ancient history. The very reason for Cairo’s wealth and cosmopolitan flair, the Nile River, also brought with it devastating floods that have killed thousands. It’s no surprise, then, that death and the afterlife have remained Cairene obsessions for three millennia. Rodenbeck describes the city as a crowded necropolis of pyramids, tombs, and mausoleums that often overshadow the living. With its commercial and cultural centrality, Cairo has attracted numerous conquerors, from Alexander the Great to the Muslim Saladin to Napoleon. The city’s chaotic political history, a tale of autocratic self-glorification and bureaucratic corruption, has rendered the average Cairene cynical and suspicious of power. Even so, since the seventh century, Islam has exerted the strongest single influence on Egyptian life. Rodenbeck brilliantly discusses Egypt’s contradictory urges for Western materialism and religious fundamentalism. The post-WWII period has been especially tumultuous for Cairo, as presidents Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak tried and largely failed to modernize postcolonial Egypt by drawing on Western models. As problems of unemployment, inequality, and overcrowding continue to plague modern Cairo, Islamic fundamentalism increasingly attracts the culturally alienated and economically frustrated. Rodenbeck worries about Islam’s encroachment on political and intellectual freedoms but finds reason for optimism in the practical, common-sense outlook of Cairo’s people. A lucid and strikingly relevant look at a city caught between its glorious past and problematic future, attempting to accommodate both East and West. (8 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-44651-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet