An absorbing and revealing portrait of profound natural disaster.




A century of severe climate aberrations witnessed sweeping cultural change.

From 1570 to the 1680s, the average global temperature fell by about 2 degrees Celsius, causing changes in ocean currents and the salinity of seawater, the growth of polar ice caps and glaciers, and extreme weather events, such as storms, torrential rain, summer droughts, and relentless frosts. Drawing on rich sources, including diaries, letters, account ledgers, paintings, and religious sermons as well as data gleaned by climate historians and scientists, journalist and translator Blom (Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938, 2015, etc.) creates a vivid picture of the European landscape during the Little Ice Age and of social, political, and cultural changes that may have been accelerated by climate change. During this period, Europe saw “a move from feudal to capitalist societies, from the fortress to the market”; scientific experimentation and empirical observation ushered in the Enlightenment; an urban middle class grew; and the medieval concept of the cyclical model of economic life was replaced by the idea of “continuing economic growth based on exploitation.” At first, people explained the unremitting cold as God’s punishment for human wickedness: “Every earthquake, every volcanic eruption, and every storm was interpreted as an expression of divine will,” and weather sermons “became a minor literary genre of their own.” When hail, cold, and drought caused food shortages and high prices, suspicions about witchcraft “grew to monstrous proportions.” By 1600, one small Westfalian farming town burned 272 individuals as witches. Blom acknowledges that “religious tensions certainly played a role, but the correlation among extreme weather events, ruined harvests, and waves of witch trials asserts itself most forcefully.” Although he establishes convincingly that Europe “found new metaphors for thinking about itself” during the 17th century, the author is cautious about positing severe weather as a single cause of major cultural changes. Blom’s epilogue addresses contemporary global warming, which, unlike the Little Ice Age, will not spontaneously rectify itself; caused by humans, it requires dramatic, clearsighted human intervention.

An absorbing and revealing portrait of profound natural disaster.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-404-8

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers...


A massive biography of the Civil War general and president, who “was the single most important figure behind Reconstruction.”

Most Americans know the traditional story of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885): a modest but brutal general who pummeled Robert E. Lee into submission and then became a bad president. Historians changed their minds a generation ago, and acclaimed historian Chernow (Washington: A Life, 2010, etc.), winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, goes along in this doorstop of a biography, which is admiring, intensely detailed, and rarely dull. A middling West Point graduate, Grant performed well during the Mexican War but resigned his commission, enduring seven years of failure before getting lucky. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was the only West Point graduate in the area, so local leaders gave him a command. Unlike other Union commanders, he was aggressive and unfazed by setbacks. His brilliant campaign at Vicksburg made him a national hero. Taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he forced Lee’s surrender, although it took a year. Easily elected in 1868, he was the only president who truly wanted Reconstruction to work. Despite achievements such as suppressing the Ku Klux Klan, he was fighting a losing battle. Historian Richard N. Current wrote, “by backing Radical Reconstruction as best he could, he made a greater effort to secure the constitutional rights of blacks than did any other President between Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.” Recounting the dreary scandals that soiled his administration, Chernow emphasizes that Grant was disastrously lacking in cynicism. Loyal to friends and susceptible to shady characters, he was an easy mark, and he was fleeced regularly throughout his life. In this sympathetic biography, the author continues the revival of Grant’s reputation.

At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers will regret the experience. For those seeking a shorter treatment, turn to Josiah Bunting’s Ulysses S. Grant (2004).

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-487-6

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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