A lively, always captivating blend of comparative religion, cultural history, literary travel, and eccentric trivia that...



Western culture, scholars say, rests on the twin foundations of Hellenism and Judaism. In this brilliant historical essay, BBC producer and writer Kriwaczek makes a solid case for adding Zoroastrianism to the mix.

One of the earliest of the known Indo-European religions, Zoroastrianism posits a dualistic view of the universe in which good forever struggles with evil. This was the religion of the early Aryans, the conquerors of northern India by way of Central Asia; in one way or another, Kriwaczek shows, it wandered into other cultures as well, often by way of kindred Manichaeism, to figure in the spiritual beliefs of the author of the Book of Daniel, the Vikings, the pre-Christian Bulgarians, and the Cathar heretics of southern France, who were burned at the stake en masse for rejecting triune orthodoxy in favor of the more black-and-white conception of the “Magians.” In a compelling insight, Kriwaczek attributes some of this chiaroscuro worldview to the environment of the religion’s birthplace, the high valleys of Afghanistan, where “blazing summers and crackling winters” blended with the prophet Mani’s painterly interest in light and darkness to yield “a fine art raised to the status of revealed religion—unique in spiritual history.” Zoroastrianism, Kriwaczek writes, is also very much alive and well, if perhaps thinly hidden, in that very homeland. The name of the Iranian city of Mehrabad, for instance, has its origins in a phrase meaning something like “faithful to Mithra” (a Zoroastrian deity); the joyous Iranian New Year’s celebration called Noruz is Zoroastrian through and through; and one of the avowed missions of the Taliban was to eradicate traces of this pre-Islamic belief from the Muslim practice of the Persianized urbanites of Afghanistan—another struggle of dark and light, of good and evil, one might say.

A lively, always captivating blend of comparative religion, cultural history, literary travel, and eccentric trivia that deserves a broad readership among the spiritually inclined.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-41528-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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