A revelatory biography, particularly for Americans whose history classes treat Eastern Europe as the far side of the world.




Convincing proposal that one of the most inept and eccentric European rulers in a turbulent age was the ultimate promoter of the arts and sciences in Western culture.

With good reason, British cultural historian Marshall (The Philosopher’s Stone, not reviewed, etc.) devotes considerable attention to the years that a teenaged Hapsburg prince spent at the court of his uncle, Phillip II of Spain. Future Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612) became fully “Spaniolated” (as one English emissary reported to Elizabeth I) in his courtly and personal manners, but watching Uncle Phillip barbecue heretics and wield the dreaded Inquisition as a weapon against his political foes led Rudolf to reject rigid Catholic intolerance of other beliefs. The court he later founded at Prague’s Hradcany Castle (to escape the irritating bustle of Vienna) established that city as an island of tolerance in sectarian-riven Europe. Shy, dyspeptic and melancholy to the point of clinical depression, Rudolf had a regrettable tendency to put off important political decisions, even his own marriage, which were boring in comparison to his preoccupation with alchemy, astrology and the sciences. But he assembled a fascinating collection of both authentic and charlatan brainpower under his patronage. Prague became a beacon to the likes of mathematician Johannes Kepler, who paid his bills doing astrological charts for nobility, and Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe; their collaboration produced the momentous Laws of Planetary Motion. Marshall suggests that his subject may have been the “greatest patron of the arts” who ever lived. Rudolf’s reward? A lonely death, and historians’ judgment that he was a weak, ineffectual ruler.

A revelatory biography, particularly for Americans whose history classes treat Eastern Europe as the far side of the world.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2006

ISBN: 0-8027-1551-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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