Readers who expect a repeat of the author’s lively intellectual romp through WWI are in for a jolt. Packed with charts,...




Does money make the world go round? While conventional wisdom maintains that economics drives all political change from wars to elections to industrial progress, the author casts a skeptical eye.

In The Pity of War (1999), Ferguson (History/Oxford Univ.) stirred up a hornet’s nest by asserting that histories of WWI got it wrong. Here he makes less spectacular claims, but thoughtful readers will have trouble holding onto cherished ideas nevertheless. The first third of his account is dense with economic arguments, as he reviews the financial history of modern governments. While nearly every nation ran a deficit in most years, it’s surprising how little that mattered. Britain prospered mightily while carrying a huge national debt, and other nations, both weak and powerful, borrowed frantically for centuries and most of their citizens were unaffected. When debts grew overwhelming, governments defaulted, but this rarely caused more than temporary inconvenience and the same governments soon resumed borrowing. The heart of the story is a hard look at the influence of economics on politics. For example, almost everyone agrees that elections hinge on prosperity: incumbents win when times are good and lose when they’re not. But the author insists that this is a fiction, backing his claim with a massive review of two centuries of election results. Likewise, everyone agrees that gold is a dependable hedge against inflation. The author finds this true, but only in unstable countries; in the US and Britain, gold buyers always lose. Many experts insist that economic progress leads to increasingly democratic governments. Others teach the opposite: that prosperity doesn’t happen in the absence of democracy. The author finds only weak evidence for both claims.

Readers who expect a repeat of the author’s lively intellectual romp through WWI are in for a jolt. Packed with charts, graphs, and scholarly economic analysis, this is much heavier going—but those who persist will find a stimulating, well-documented outpouring of controversial ideas.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-465-02325-8

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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