Informative, amusing and idiosyncratic—just like an interesting letter written in unique hand.



Critic and novelist Hensher (Creative Writing/Univ. of Exeter; King of the Badgers, 2012, etc.) laments the loss of handwriting instruction and surveys the history of our love affair with the pen.

After some introductory comments about the once-important but now diminishing significance of handwriting in our culture, the author zooms back a few thousand years for a glimpse at the invention of writing. He then gradually moves forward to look at the various styles and techniques and teaching philosophies that once rose, reigned and fell. He occasionally inserts minichapters (all called “Witness”) that comprise interviews with people of differing ages, genders and professions discussing their handwriting, how they learned it and how they feel about it. (These are not the most riveting sections of the text.) Hensher looks closely at the methods that once were prominent—copperplate, Spencer, Palmer and others—and offers some surprising tidbits along the way—e.g., hand printing (as opposed to script) did not emerge until the early 20th century. The author also discusses the handwriting of significant historical figures ranging from Dickens to Hitler; talks about the role of handwriting in literature from Sherlock Holmes to Proust; charts the history of the quill, the steel nib and ink; and sketches the history of the “pseudo-science of graphology.” He waxes ironic and amusing, too, several times suggesting that a person who dot his i’s with little hearts is a “moron.” The author ends with a wistful list of things we might do to save the dying art.

Informative, amusing and idiosyncratic—just like an interesting letter written in unique hand.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-86547-893-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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