Well-written and scholarly without being pedantic—an enlightening history of the broad influence the Vikings exerted in a...




The investigation into the origins of the 92 ivory chessmen discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the early 1800s provides a good avenue for Brown (Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths, 2012, etc.) to explore the rich tapestry of Icelandic and Viking history.

Iceland was a primary source of walrus ivory and produced more indigenous literature than any other language save Latin in the 11th and 12th centuries. The author tells of the intriguing “dragon scale,” which rates the historicity of the tales; the more dragons, trolls, ghosts, and walking dead, the less likely the accuracy of the saga. They were categorized as Family Sagas, Sagas of Ancient Times, Kings’ Sagas, and Contemporary Sagas, with the Family and Contemporary scoring low on the dragon scale. Reading the medieval sagas in the original Icelandic, Brown has extra insight into the life of Iceland’s golden age, and she finds frequent references to the culture of chess, royal gifts of chessmen, and actual chess matches. Chess was invented in India, taken to Persia by the mid-500s, and moved with Persian silver into the global trade routes. It was a king’s game of strategy and courtly love, initially with only one king, highly outnumbered. The author shows how different pieces evolved, as the vizier became first a weak queen, and then strong, and rooks become berserks, Odin’s warriors. Dating the delightfully quirky Lewis chessmen around 1200, Brown notes that their Romanesque style continued its popularity in Iceland. She is convincing in her assertion that Bishop Pall of Skalholt commissioned one of his four artisans, Margret the Adroit, to carve them. Photos of the chessmen enhance the narrative.

Well-written and scholarly without being pedantic—an enlightening history of the broad influence the Vikings exerted in a very short period.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-27937-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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