An educational summary and analysis of a most miraculous cultural era.

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MODERNISM

THE LURE OF HERESY: FROM BAUDELAIRE TO BECKETT AND BEYOND

A veteran cultural historian weighs in with an encyclopedic account of the fecund 120 years that engendered artists as varied and brilliant as Frank Lloyd Wright, T. S. Eliot and Marcel Proust.

Like a playwright or director, Gay (Schnitzler’s Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815–1914, 2001, etc.) sets the scene and describes the principal players, then brings them onstage, watches them perform and gives them notes afterward. His range and erudition are bewildering—is there a modernist novel, poem or play he has not read? A painting, sculpture, film or building he has not seen? He deals with many players in perfunctory fashion, but to numerous others—the notables—he devotes a few pages each (there is room for no more tonnage in this tome). He begins with the “founders” of the movement—Baudelaire, Monet and Oscar Wilde among them—and moves on to the painters and sculptors, featuring van Gogh, Munch, Beckmann and Picasso. Then it’s off to the writers, with special attention to Joyce and Woolf. In this section, he occasionally loses control of his usually restrained prose. “Like a seasoned animal tamer,” he writes, “Woolf cracked her whip on her prose and made the most feral brute cringe at her orders.” Proust and Kafka also merit much attention before the music begins and the dancers leap onto the stage. Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Balanchine compose and cavort before it’s time for the architects—Wright, Le Corbusier, the Bauhausers and others. The theater and the cinema follow, and Gay enshrines Eisenstein, Chaplin and Welles in his Modernist museum. A final ominous chapter assesses the effects of 20th-century totalitarian governments on the Modernists. He concludes with the rather patent commonplace that “the principal effect of fascism on the arts, then, was negative.”

An educational summary and analysis of a most miraculous cultural era.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-05205-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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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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