EUROPE

A CULTURAL HISTORY

paper 0-415-17230-6 By Rietbergen (Modem History/Univ. of Nijmegen, Netherlands), a magisterial review of Europe’s cultural history from the Roman Empire to the post-WWII era. Rietbergen denies that Europe is a strictly geographical expression: instead for him, Europe is “a series of world-views, of peoples’ perspectives on their reality, sometimes only dreamt or desired, sometimes experienced and realized as well.” Despite the cultural diversity of Europe, the author perceives several unifying themes: one is Catholicism and its offshoots, which for centuries after the collapse of Rome defined the civilization of Europe. A modern unifying trend is the gradual evolution of many European countries toward constitutional and democratic government, which emphasizes the political and economic freedom of the individual. To present these themes historically, Rietbergen divides European history into four distinct cultural phases: the gradual emergence of a pan-European entity in the Roman Empire, which gave political unity to far-flung lands formerly dominated by Celtic and Germanic barbarians; the coalescence of a Christian Europe with a Roman character, which resulted in a uniquely European civilization in contrast to the eastern Christian and Islamic civilizations around the Mediterranean; the development of new ways of looking at man and the world with the emergence of humanism, the Renaissance, the great world explorations, and the Enlightenment; and the modem age, with its emphasis on consumption and communication, material culture and progress. The author concludes that Europe is evolving toward a future in which classical tradition, Christianity, and ethnic identity will have less cultural significance for Europe than in the past, but in which distinctive humane European values will continue to have an impact on the world. A thoughtful though ponderous meditation on the development of the “European idea” and its significance for the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-415-17229-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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