MODERN TIMES, MODERN PLACES

A sweeping, ambitious examination of sea changes in human perception and interpretation over the past 100 years, from Oxford professor Conrad (A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera, 1987, etc.). The author admits that his account heavily favors the first half of the 20th century. Although the thematically organized chapters march in roughly chronological order, in many, Conrad devotes dozens of pages to an artistic trend as played out in pre- WWII decades, then tacks on a few paragraphs zipping us through its manifestations in the postwar years. His essential subject is the assault of high modernism on the received wisdoms of the past. As he depicts our century’s most daring painters, writers, composers, architects, and directors (abetted by their peers in science and apocalyptic politics) challenging conventional notions about the representation and even the essential nature of physical, social, and psychological reality, two central points emerge. Abstraction, Conrad suggests in his most interesting passages, is not just an artistic strategy, but a response to the increasingly abstract nature of modern life, experienced at an accelerating pace and accessorized with ever more complex technologies as disorienting as they are indispensable. His second principal theme—the loss of individual identity within the urban crowd, totalitarian political movements, and consumerist mass culture’seems more clichÇd. Indeed, there isn—t much new material here, as Conrad rounds up the usual artistic suspects (surrealism, dadaism, cubism, serialism, atonalism: name your favorite, and you—ll find it) and takes readers to such oft-visited sites as turn-of-the-century Vienna, Moscow in the rosy 1920s heyday of Soviet idealism, and 1990s Tokyo, paragon of the ersatz, virtual-reality world we now inhabit. Nonetheless, he capably integrates massive amounts of information into a smoothly entertaining chronicle. Scholars may regret the lack of original insights, but this accomplished and very thorough round-up of our century’s most important cultural trends is perfect for the serious general reader. (166 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 3, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40113-X

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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