A lucid, blood-soaked study that will give no comfort to those pining for peace in our time.

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THE WAR OF THE WORLD

TWENTIETH-CENTURY CONFLICT AND THE DESCENT OF THE WEST

A sweeping, big-picture view of the bloodiest century in human history.

The 21st is giving the 20th century a run for its money, but, as prolific historian Ferguson (History/Harvard Univ.; Colossus, 2004, etc.) notes, the latter is still the standard-bearer for human savagery, “far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any other previous era.” Borrowing a page from the little-read German historian Oswald Spengler, Ferguson introduces grand themes in an effort to determine why the time should have been so murderous even as standards of living were improving throughout so much of the world. The War of the World (encompassing the period from before WWI to the end of the Korean War, about half a century), and particularly its bloodiest phase, WWII, were, he writes, fueled by several disparate sources, which “may be summarized as ethnic conflict, economic volatility and empires in decline.” The first helps explain the Holocaust and Japan’s savagery against captive Asian populations; Ferguson catalogues some of the endlessly inventive ways in which militarized states and pseudo-states have efficiently slaughtered their own people before tangling with their neighbors. Having delineated these far-reaching themes, which he has addressed in previous work—indeed, this opus is a sort of summary of his work to date—Ferguson delivers a more or less standard history, little of which will come as news to readers familiar with the work of, say, David Reynolds or Paul Johnson. Still, Ferguson writes with an eye for the telling detail, showing, for instance, that anyone who professed surprise at the Third Reich’s program of expansionism could not have been paying attention, since Hitler publicly announced in 1936 that “the German armed forces must be ready for combat within four years.”

A lucid, blood-soaked study that will give no comfort to those pining for peace in our time.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-100-5

Page Count: 718

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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