DESERT BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS

MORMONS, MINERS, PADRES, MOUNTAIN MEN, AND THE OPENING OF THE GREAT BASIN, 1772-1869

An adequate, if hackneyed, rehearsal of a century's worth of history in the Great Basin region from Durham (a longtime editor for Life magazine). Durham's three-part narrative is not so much an original work of scholarship as an impressionistic synthesis of the state's history. This approach inevitably sacrifices depth for breadth. The book's publication is timed to coincide with the sesquicentennial celebration of the Mormon arrival in the region. But Mormons don't even appear until Durham has given us a hundred pages of Spanish explorers, fur-trapping ``mountain men,'' trailblazers like Jedediah Smith, and a reprisal of the ill-fated Donner-Reed party. This history is admittedly important, but Durham breezes through it with little analysis and too many stereotypical characterizations. When he addresses the Mormon experience, he does so with a remarkable and welcome impartiality, but his attempt to address the complexities of Mormon polygamy is unpersuasive, and he offers nothing original except a one-line, unsupported rebuttal of the long-standing tradition that Mormons crossed the frozen Mississippi River on foot. The lack of citations, here and elsewhere, is irritating. But the book has its good points: The best chapter is undoubtedly Durham's recital of the incidents leading up to the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, when a Mormon-led party—feeling persecuted and mobilized for a possible battle with the US army- -murdered more than 120 adults and children passing through southern Utah toward California. But just when the story becomes engrossing, Durham abandons it for another trajectory, exploring the opening of Utah via the telegraph, Pony Express, and railroad, and introducing still more strands to an already crowded narrative. Durham is a fine storyteller, but he wants to tell too many stories. What's more, the lack of original research leaves the book seeming more like a recapitulation than an original or necessary work. (50 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-4161-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1997

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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