A brisk, readable retelling with a slightly odd emphasis.

READ REVIEW

THE DREYFUS AFFAIR

THE SCANDAL THAT TORE FRANCE IN TWO

Novelist/historian Read (The Death of a Pope, 2009, etc.) revisits the notorious case that revealed the ugly extent of anti-Semitism in France.

The conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason on December 22, 1894 was only the beginning of a 12-year ordeal that divided France and remains one of history’s most famous instances of official misconduct and injustice. It ended with the Jewish officer’s complete exoneration, but only after he had suffered nearly five years’ imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Members of the armed forces forged documents and gave false testimony to ensure that his guilt was not questioned, while members of the government looked the other way in the interests of not damaging the public’s faith in the army. Read’s account, based mostly on secondary sources, adds one new element to this oft-told tale: an effort to explain the motives of the anti-Dreyfusards, many of whom (like the author) were Catholic, as something beyond knee-jerk anti-Semitism. “The Affair is intelligible only if it seen in the context of the ideological struggle between the France of St. Louis and the France of Voltaire,” writes the author. True enough, but his attempt to provide that context by detailing the persecution of Catholic priests during the French Revolution and the ongoing anticlericalism of secularists in the Third Republic at times seems uncomfortably close to justifying the misdeeds that condemned an innocent man. It’s a matter of tone rather than factual inaccuracy. We hear repeatedly about Dreyfus’ aloof manner and the poor impression he made at his several trials, while Read writes of the generals who refused to pursue compelling evidence against the real traitor, “to them the choice was between injustice and disorder.” An obvious miscarriage of justice is certainly more understandable when one realizes that the anti-Dreyfusards believed that clearing him would shake the foundations of the state. It does nothing to soften the repulsive impression made by mobs shrieking “Dirty Jew!” as Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted.

A brisk, readable retelling with a slightly odd emphasis.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-432-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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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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