From veteran British popular historian Johnson, an overly exhaustive account of the vigorous and violent growth of several small British colonies into the modern American nation. Although Johnson (The Birth of the Modern, 1991, etc.) purports to present the history of the "American people," his account has an undeniably British orientation; No details can be found here of the cultures of pre-European inhabitants of North America or the history of areas not originally settled by British colonists, such as Louisiana or the Southwest. Johnson divides his account into eight periods, of which some dates seem dubious (one might question dating America's career as a superpower to 1929, the first year of the Great Depression). More troubling, though understandable in a book of this encyclopedic scope, are the author's omissions and occasionally provocative assertions. In his account of the Civil War period, for instance, Johnson fails to discuss the militarily significant Western War, and he asserts, contrary to most accounts and without much apparent authority, that Abraham Lincoln didn't love his wife and didn't like Secretary of State Seward. Johnson traces not only the military, but also the political, social, and cultural history of America. He treats such disparate topics as the poetry of Walt Whitman, the developing role of women in American society, the growth of vast business combinations in the early 20th century, immigration and urbanization, the Vietnam War, and the 1973-74 "putsch against the Executive" (which is what Johnson calls the Watergate scandal). He editorializes on virtually every subject, sometimes controversially. Noting the many problems faced by modern America, Johnson concludes nonetheless that "the story of America is essentially one of difficulties being overcome by intelligence and skill, by faith and strength of purpose, by courage and persistence." A vast tour-de-force of research and writing. Nonetheless, Johnson tries to do too much here, and the overall result is as much of a labor to read as it must have been to write.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-016836-6

Page Count: 944

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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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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