Caveat emptor: This is most definitely not ``the history'' of the Jews. It is, rather, a series of very free-flowing exercises in what the author refers to as ``historical sociology.'' Cantor (History, Sociology, Comparative Literature/New York Univ.; Inventing the Middle Ages, p. 106, etc.) is attempting a huge tripartite task: to write a history of the Jews, to provide a historiographical commentary of some major works on Jewish history, and to offer a cultural critique of modern Jewish life. For the complex saga of the Jews, this is an utterly unrealistic goal for a one-volume work, especially by someone who hasn't specialized in Jewish history. Perhaps the foremost problem here is the author's unsympathetic attitude toward Judaism and observant Jews and his lack of knowledge about them. Cantor dredges up the hoariest stereotypes, claiming for instance that in the late Middle Ages ``the rabbinate drugged itself into comfort with the narcotic of the Cabala, an otherworldly withdrawal into astrology and demonology.'' He also gets far too many facts wrong (he claims that the biblical heroine Esther was Mordechai's sister, when in fact she was his ``uncle's daughter''). Some major developments in Jewish history are scarcely mentioned, such as the origins and development of the Reform and Conservative movements. Cantor champions such Jewish thinkers as Freud, Wittgenstein, and LÇvi- Strauss, who played a key role in shaping the culture of modernity. He appears to have little familiarity with intellectual leaders within the Jewish community such as Franz Rosenzweig, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Thus he rather harshly- -and unjustly—critiques Jewish religious life for not responding sufficiently to the culture of modernity (although he never makes clear exactly what he means by this); yet non-Orthodox Jews have been so accommodating to modernity that, as Cantor acknowledges, traditional Jewish culture has become very attenuated. The lack of footnotes or other documentation is further evidence that this is an intellectually shoddy book. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-06-016746-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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...


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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