Eloquent and visceral.




The indefatigable expert on the Big Smoke considers the history below London’s streets from a historical, mythical and psycho-geographical perspective.

Ackroyd (Venice: Pure City, 2010, etc.) has worn many literary hats over the years—historiographer, biographer and novelist, to name a few. After recent years of reliable and prolific just-the-facts history on everything above ground in London (including the River Thames), the author lowers himself into the muck of London’s mysterious underworld in this compact but surprisingly diverse study. “Like the nerves within the human body, the underworld controls the life of the surface,” writes the author. Alongside the usual straight-laced factual history, Ackroyd enhances his research with airy philosophizing, grandiose pronouncements and fashionable filth-mongering, all while teasing out the hidden meanings and subterranean lore of life under the capital. He contemplates underground rivers and streams, the London Underground transit system and the “tube,” the elaborate network of sewers, tunnels, buried wells and springs, former bomb shelters, and, of course, the city’s cemeteries and catacombs. He provides the back story on how London’s geographical nomenclature is tied to its rich underground history, not to mention how this netherworld has become a source of terror and wonderment in the minds of surface-dwellers. Throughout, Ackroyd is at his most wildly associative and experimental. A good example of his approach throughout comes in the chapter “Far Under Ground,” where he personifies individual tube lines: “The Circle Line is adventurous and breezy, while the Bakerloo Line is disconsolate and brooding.” Readers who have experienced the same underside of London will find it difficult not to concede the accuracy of characterizations like these, however whimsical.

Eloquent and visceral.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53150-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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