In 1827, a giraffe sailed from Egypt to Marseille. It then walked to Paris. It was France’s first giraffe, and this is Allin’s first book. Both events are worthy of note, trailing surprise and pleasure in their wake. Allin tells the story of Zarafa, a giraffe sent to France’s King Charles X by the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali. Ali had recently invaded Greece, and Europe was angry at the move; Zarafa was meant to insinuate Ali into the king’s favor by gracing the royal menagerie with an exotic. This all came about from a combination of circumstance and personality, both of which Allin ably delineates: the post-Napoleonic Egyptomania that gripped France; the cultured pirate Bernardino Drovetti, French consul general to Egypt, who trafficked in exotic animals and mummies; Ali himself, erstwhile Albanian mercenary, Francophile, up-from-nothing barbarian who consolidated his power from Nubia to Syria, and under whose reign “Egypt went from the Stone Age to the Enlightenment”; Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, scientific wunderkind of the Institut de France. And, of course, there is the giraffe (Zarafa is the Arabic-derived name Allin gives the beast): her capture as a calf, her journey “via camel, Nile felucca, seagoing brigantine, and her own four legs” to Paris and celebrity, a monumental addition to the national cabinet de curiositiÇs, an instant infatuation that generated vaudeville skits, hair styles, and the naming of a form of influenza in her honor. In the process, Allin gives readers glimpses of Napoleon’s corps de savants; histories of Alexandria, Messina, the Ptolemies; a fine caricature of European bureaucratic maneuvering in the early 19th century; and, not least, a superb description of the sea’s colors off Alexandria (Allin traced the route). Allin shares a talent seen in two other recent Walker books, Dava Sobel’s Longitude and James deKay’s Monitor: the ability to make an obscure subject incandescent through crisp storytelling and a felicitous handling of arcane details. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 1998

ISBN: 0-8027-1339-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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