The wind goes out of Beran’s sails after Lincoln’s assassination, but he handles well the intriguing biographical histories...



A sprightly work of scholarship by journalist-historian Beran (Jefferson’s Demons: Portraits of a Restless Mind, 2003) cuts suspensefully among decisive moments in the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck and Russian Tsar Alexander II as they revolutionized their respective countries.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and united a bitterly divided United States; Bismarck wrestled the German states from Hapsburg control and created a modern militaristic Prussian stronghold; Alexander gambled on reform by freeing the serfs and ushering in a rule of law. The three leaders essentially fashioned their countries into “machines of freedom,” the consequences of which still reverberate today. In alternating segments moving chronologically from 1861 to 1871 and after, Beran sets his vivid historical characters against increasingly dire backdrops. In Russia, the people were growing restive under a decaying autocracy, and Alexander, influenced by the British Enlightenment, wisely eschewed the traditional course of coercion followed by his forebears in favor of an uneasy brand of liberalism. Beran provides portraits of Turgenev and Tolstoy to flesh out these revolutionary ideas, which ultimately failed and led to the tsar’s assassination. In Germany, Bismarck, acting as minister-president for the ineffectual King Wilhelm on the motto “blood and iron,” broke with Berlin’s Parliament and challenged Austrian authority, using the music of Wagner and the poetry of militant nationalism to whip up popular support for his furious campaign of annexation. Most American readers will find the Lincoln sections the most riveting, as Beran re-enacts the agonizing decisions of the president as he tenaciously held to executive power in spite of Southern treachery, standing by dilatory General George McClellan just long enough to gain one decisive victory and stave off foreign intervention. The author also skillfully interweaves selections from Mary Chesnut’s diary and Walt Whitman’s work.

The wind goes out of Beran’s sails after Lincoln’s assassination, but he handles well the intriguing biographical histories of three legendary leaders.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-7069-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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