CITIES IN CIVILIZATION

Any book this size must pass the hernia test: Is the payoff from reading it greater than the potential discomfort from lifting it? Urban planning expert Hall’s (University Coll., London) magnum opus passes, but just barely. He observes that certain cities, at certain times, pass through “golden ages,” and he seeks an explanation for these brief historical moments. Hall explores the cultural flowering of Athens, Florence, London, Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, each in their prime; considers the productive innovation of Manchester, Glasgow, Berlin, Detroit, Palo Alto, and Tokyo; and describes the merger of art and industry in Los Angeles and Memphis. This survey produces a wealth of information but doesn—t pin down specific variables explaining the rise and fall of great cities, so the indefatigable author seeks out the organizational basis of the urban order in Rome, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Stockholm. The empirical description is supported by theoretical analysis drawing upon a wide array of thinkers, and Hall’s ability to remain focused on his initial question through a thousand pages of material is remarkable. A reasonable reader, however, could feel cheated by his conclusion. While recognizing preconditions which can encourage or retard a city’s development, Hall finds that “time and chance happeneth to them all; it is a question of finding the moment and seizing the hour.” To explain that there’s no explanation cannot satisfy. And the failure may reflect an authorial flaw. For Hall, cities are too much the grandest variable in human existence for them to be epiphenomena, so factors such as the rise and fall of nations or shifts in global economic patterns remain at the margin of his analysis. Unfortunately, excluding the variables most likely to be fruitful is a recipe for intellectual frustration. Nevertheless, his exhaustive case studies of cities are commendable. (48 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-394-58732-4

Page Count: 1168

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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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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