A true history of England tightly focused on the building blocks that made her.




Once again, Ackroyd (London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets, 2011) exhibits his magic touch with the written word, this time with the first in a six-volume history of England.

The first few thousand years of English history is understandably sparse. Written records amount to a few carvings, physical evidence is found in barrows or other burials, and myths passed down over the years tend to become adulterated. The author spends little time in the years of Roman rule, other than to point out that the pilgrims’ paths and the great Roman roads are on prehistoric pathways to shrines and holy wells. Ackroyd’s genius is in his focus on individual kings and on England alone, without Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He explains some myths, debunks others and brings England’s kings to life. Change was slow but inexorable. From even the earliest times, England had central, organized administrations, an aristocratic society and social stratification. However it came to pass, the country has always held a sense of community. Alfred the Great set the foundations for civil service, the judiciary and Parliament; most of today’s villages in England were formed before the 12th century; King John’s reign increased the use of written records; and it wasn’t until the 14th century, with the arrival of the Franciscans and Dominicans, that sermons were first delivered. Curiously, invaders occupied the land from the first through the 13th centuries, and England’s monarchs have all had non-English origins, from the Normans through to the Hanoverians (e.g., French, Welsh, Scots). Delightfully, with each king, Ackroyd summarizes their good and bad attributes along with delightful non sequiturs, such as the first use of the handkerchief.

A true history of England tightly focused on the building blocks that made her.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00361-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet