A loving yet clear-eyed celebration of the enigmatic icon on the Adriatic.




The indefatigable chronicler of his native England’s culture looks overseas to the magical Italian city on a lagoon.

In this impressionistic appreciation of Venice, Ackroyd (The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, 2009, etc.) opens with a haunting evocation of the site as it appeared to fifth-century mainlanders fleeing barbarian invasions: “a solitary place, its silence broken only by the calls of seabirds and the crash of the billows of the sea and the sound of the wind soughing in the rushes.” But the city would not remain silent for long. It was a center of trade for more than 1,000 years, as its ships brought the spices of the East to Europe and carried manufactured items in the opposite direction. Its position at the economic forefront faltered after the 16th century, when city authorities refused to compromise the standards of the luxury goods for which Venice was famous and lost out to the merchants of England and Holland, able to offer cloths and metals for less. But Venice reinvented itself as a playground for foreigners, trading on its dazzling art and architecture and its seductive music and theater to attract the hordes of visitors that still clog the Piazza San Marco today. Yet Ackroyd reminds us that this city of brilliant surfaces has always also been a place of mystery, of secrets and crimes concealed behind opaque facades. Mosaics and glass are its characteristic products; its greatest painters (Titian, Tintoretto) excel in color and drama, not psychological complexity; ditto the music of native son Vivaldi and the beloved comedies of Goldoni. The author affectionately portrays Venetians as intensely social and deeply conservative, creators of an oligarchic democracy that endured for centuries. Public life was as theatrical as the opera; little was at stake because nothing ever changed. There’s no need to lament the city’s contemporary role as a tourist attraction, writes Ackroyd, because “the tourist Venice is the essential, quintessential, Venice.”

A loving yet clear-eyed celebration of the enigmatic icon on the Adriatic.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-53152-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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