MEDIEVAL LIVES

EIGHT CHARISMATIC MEN AND WOMEN OF THE MIDDLE AGES

Using imaginary conversations, NYU professor Cantor (Inventing the Middle Ages, 1991, etc.) attempts to make medieval culture and society relevant for the modern reader. Beginning in the fifth century with Helen, mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, Cantor guides us through the Middle Ages up to John, Duke of Bedford, in charge of the English army in France in 1427. En route we meet St. Augustine in North Africa, Alcuin as an old man at Aachen musing on his hopes for a Christian Empire under Charlemagne, Humbert of Lorraine and his dreams of a new order through papal power, St. Hildegard with her vision of femininity's role, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine caught up in dynastic conflicts, and the scholarly ideals of the gentle Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln and first chancellor of Oxford University. Each chapter consists of a conversation bringing out the character of one of these figures. Cantor evokes the ambiances of each of the various epochs, and he enables us to enter sympathetically into the intense idealism of the people concerned even as we become aware of their limitations—as in the conversation among Augustine, his outspoken sister, and an old friend who has become a schismatic bishop. Cantor's dialogue is best when he is playing one idea off another, but he can be wooden when his characters inform each other of ``recent'' events. A serious problem, too, is his unabashed anachronism throughout. Thus we hear Helen discussing women's liberation, anti-Semitism, and religion in terms clearly familiar to the 1990's. This makes for stimulating reading, but since it is also supposed to be history, readers cannot feel sure whether or not they are being manipulated. On balance, a vivid exercise in narrative that is more ideological than historical.

Pub Date: March 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-06-016989-3

Page Count: 206

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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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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