Narrative history at its best, with patient unfolding of events unknown and forgotten—but that have consequences even today....




Quick: What was the Crimean War about?

If you can’t easily answer the question, or even locate the Crimean War within a couple of decades of the mid-19th century, then you are not alone. As Figes (History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, 2007, etc.) notes, even in France, which lost some 100,000 soldiers in the conflict, the Crimean War is very nearly forgotten. The author locates the origins of the war—now remembered almost exclusively for the so-called Charge of the Light Brigade—in several proximate causes. The clash of three ambitious empires (Russian, Ottoman and British) was one; related to it was the growing Russian Orthodox presence in the Holy Land, and related to that the rivalry among Islam, Catholicism (and Anglicanism) and Orthodox Christianity. The French “were most alarmed by the growing Russian presence in the Holy Lands,” writes Figes, and they pressed for ways to contain it—and not just that, but also the growing Russian influence in the Balkans, still dominated by the Ottomans. Louis Napoleon found perhaps unexpected allies in the British, rivals with Russia for dominance in Central Asia; for the Ottomans, meanwhile, the conflict was one in just many with Russia. The author ably chronicles the savagery of all parties—drawing on hitherto unknown Russian and Turkish archives, he reckons that the death count was more than 1 million, including the unfortunate dead of the besieged Russian city of Sevastopol—and illustrates the utter modernity of this first “total war.” Figes closes with a fascinating account of how the war shaped the nations that fought it; in Russia, for instance, it helped launch the later pan-Slavic movement and is commemorated as a noble defeat against Britain’s “aggressive imperialist aims in the Black Sea”—in short, as a foreshadowing of the Cold War and the “clash of civilizations” among Islam and the West.

Narrative history at its best, with patient unfolding of events unknown and forgotten—but that have consequences even today. A thoroughly impressive book.

Pub Date: April 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7460-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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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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