A you-are-there enterprise in the Steven Ambrose vein, full of surprising turns and not a few ironies.

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BRUTAL JOURNEY

THE EPIC STORY OF THE FIRST CROSSING OF NORTH AMERICA

Talk about a bad trip: Four would-be conquerors wander across some of North America’s most difficult country for eight years, and they don’t even find gold to make up for their troubles.

The story of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s unwanted expedition into the interior is well-known to students of Spanish colonial history and has a huge scholarly literature surrounding it, but there are few popular works devoted to it as compared to, say, the easier journey of Lewis and Clark. Schneider’s well-told tale begins with avarice and jealousy, as the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez, having rebelled against the better-connected Hernán Cortés and been imprisoned for his troubles, nonetheless manages to convince the Spanish crown to let him take charge of conquering “the entire Gulf Coast of what would one day become the United States.” His fleet—not well-outfitted, for Narváez was broke—made the area of Tampa Bay in 1528, and his contingent of Caribs, Africans and Spanish soldiers marched off into the unknown for food and riches. Second-in-command by virtue of being King Charles V’s “eyes and ears on the ground during the expedition”—for, naturally, the king wanted his cut—Cabeza de Vaca found himself contesting Narváez’s increasingly impetuous decisions at every turn. Disappointed and embattled, the company reached what is now Galveston Bay before being shipwrecked; Narváez died, and the remaining force lost man after man until just three were left besides Cabeza de Vaca. This multicultural crew, one of whom, Schneider guesses, was a converted Jew, the other an African slave, then wandered for thousands of miles until eventually finding a Spanish settlement in western Mexico. Through all of this, Schneider does a solid job of enhancing an intrinsically interesting story without getting in the way.

A you-are-there enterprise in the Steven Ambrose vein, full of surprising turns and not a few ironies.

Pub Date: May 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-6835-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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