Crucial decades in the history of the ancient world vividly rendered.

THE STORM BEFORE THE STORM

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE ROMAN REPUBLIC

Exploring the significant period from 146 to 78 B.C.E., which laid the groundwork for the violent decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Award-winning history podcaster Duncan offers a lively, extremely well-informed chronicle of nearly seven decades of Roman political and social life, less well-known than the age of Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony that followed. Drawing on ancient sources as well as modern histories, the author reveals chilling parallels to our own time, including “rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct, the privatization of the military, rampant corruption, endemic social and ethnic prejudice, battles over access to citizenship and voting rights, ongoing military quagmires, the introduction of violence as a political tool, and a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” Duncan’s fast-paced narrative covers the rivalries, wars, sieges, massacres, land grabs, political reforms, secret negotiations, triumphs, betrayals, and defeats that characterized life for the powerful, aristocratic patricians and the plebeians and slaves who comprised the rest of society. Rome faced challenges within its borders and beyond, as it expanded into Spain, Gaul, Africa, and Asia. Among the most mysterious was the incursion of the Cimbri, a migrating horde of hundreds of thousands, perhaps from what is now Denmark, “simply looking for an uninhabited territory to live in.” Provoked into battle, the Cimbri defeated Rome three times before moving on to Spain. Duncan writes with evident enthusiasm, and his style is accessible and colloquial: a political gambit, he notes, “sent conservatives in the Senate through the roof”; a young patrician caroused with “the bottom feeders of the Roman social order”; one political aspirant was “the perfect guy for the job.” The huge cast of characters, likely to be unfamiliar to all but specialist readers, at times overwhelms the narrative, while the maps and timeline at the beginning are helpful.

Crucial decades in the history of the ancient world vividly rendered.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61039-721-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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