Despite the scattered feel, Brown’s undertaking is an important one. It’s the first English-language book published on...

SONG OF THE VIKINGS

SNORRI AND THE MAKING OF THE NORSE MYTHS

Brown (The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, 2010, etc.) reexamines the life and work of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century Icelandic chieftain known as the “Homer of the North.”

An Icelandic historian, poet, landowner and “law speaker” of Iceland’s high court, Sturluson is the accredited author of two major contributions to the Norse cannon: the Edda and the Heimskringla. His sparkling wit and descriptive elegance distinguish his writing from other accounts and are responsible for making him a favorite of scholars and fantasy writers alike. It was Snorri’s renditions of Odin the wanderer, elves, frost giants and epic battles that inspired literary greats like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. A lover of feasting, women, booze and, most of all, power, Snorri was also a passionate advocate for the preservation of the fading Norse mythology and poetic style of his time. Brown’s straightforward voice helps turn the pages, but the narrative is also belabored by an excess of genealogy. Although medieval Icelandic society was one of admittedly prolific breeders, the author makes little effort to help readers untangle her associations. Perhaps popular biographers like Stacy Schiff have left readers spoiled—readers may wonder how much more adeptly a biographer of her caliber might have brought this story to life. However, the book is absorbing enough that by the end, readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man.

Despite the scattered feel, Brown’s undertaking is an important one. It’s the first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years, and for that reason alone, it will make useful reading for ardent students and dedicated armchair historians.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-230-33884-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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