Pleasant and even instructive, but requires sustained suspension of the critical faculty.




A fan’s notes on the “ironic, kindly, democratic, humorous, energetic, tolerant, and brave” peoples of Britain.

Daughter of popular historian Antonia Fraser, the first-time author declares a well-intended but surely old-fashioned mission: with her three young daughters in mind, she set out to write a controversy-free, anecdotal and colorful survey of England from Roman times to the present, a modern rejoinder to Henrietta Marshall’s Our Island Story, published a century ago. Fraser has done this work admirably, giving us an account that’s a treat to read, if a little musty at points. Surely she is one of the last writers of our time to refer to Britain (for which read the United Kingdom) as “she,” as in, “Britain’s ancient democratic institutions mean she cannot view a European superstate without protest.” Though the book is in good company with Charles Dickens’s Child’s History of England, there’s plenty of adult-friendly deceit, treachery, adultery, and murder, the currency of royals, nobles, and commoners from the dawn of history. Even there, though, Fraser works hard to put a positive spin on things, so that by her account Henry II really didn’t mean to have poor old Thomas à Becket murdered in the cathedral, and Chamberlain gave in to Hitler only because the English are so naturally peace-loving and unmilitaristic. Among the narrative’s high points is a very short account of the American Revolution, which the author suggests had ultimately positive effects by sowing doubt back home about the “efficacy of the prevailing political system” and moving along the process of democracy. Few do wrong in these pages, expect perhaps John Major, who stole up on brave, stouthearted Margaret Thatcher, “stabbed in the back by a challenge to her leadership.” It ends with a rousing cheer for “a curious and contradictory people”—a people made up, of course, of many peoples with widely ranging views on such events.

Pleasant and even instructive, but requires sustained suspension of the critical faculty.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-06010-1

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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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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