WORLD SOCIETY, 1815-1830

A gargantuan panorama of the 15 transforming years immediately after the Napoleonic era, when "peace came and immense new resources in finance, management, science and technology which were now available could be put to constructive purposes." Johnson (Intellectuals, 1989; A History of the Jews, 1987, etc.), a past editor of the New Statesman and the Spectator, is a master of vigorous narratives on epic topics. Astoundingly, he writes with fascination about events and movements in virtually all fields of human endeavor, whether the subjugation of Native Americans by Andrew Jackson, the scientific discoveries of Humphrey Davy, the compositions of Beethoven, the transparent innovations of George Stephenson and John McAdam, or such social phenomena as dueling, adultery, illegitimacy, and animal protectionism. He also throws an unexpected light on how artists and scientists formed a "conjunction of minds" by drawing on work in other fields (e.g., how intuitive speculations by Coleridge and Shelley about atomic and electromagnetic theory inspired the experimental science of Davy and Michael Faraday). Johnson's narrative and analytical skills even compensate for many dubious passages when his conservatism leads him to stretch for parallels between 19th- and 20th-century politics—for example, when he sees the genesis of the US-British "special relationship" at a moment when both nations continued to be wary of the other's attention, or likens Romantic admirers of Napoleon such as Shelley, Hazlitt, and Byron to intellectuals enamored of Stalinism in the 1930's. Maddeningly long and highly opinionated, but a lively and readable history of a world "exhilarated and sometimes bewildered by the rapid changes which were transforming it.

Pub Date: June 5, 1991

ISBN: 0060922826

Page Count: 1120

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1991

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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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