Solnit (Savage Dreams, not reviewed, etc.) impressively plaits together the landscape, identity politics, and literature of Ireland in this exquisite piece of travel writing. When her uncle's research led to Californian Solnit receiving an Irish passport—the purple document with its embossed harp speaking to her of exile, colonization, emigration, heritage—she hoofed it over to the Emerald Isle. There she just followed her whims, and the result is this, ``a book of essays sequenced and shaped by my journey.'' Solnit is a shrewd and canny observer of everyday life, a student who likes to know the background, an adept at the fine art of seeing, then excavating and deciphering what she sees with a crackingly smart leftist take. She places the reader in unfamiliar positions from which to view, say, Irish literature (``a sensibility more cognizant of the arbitrariness of literary form and all the opportunities of subverting it''), or tourism (``It is the perfect industry for the information age: one of leisure, consumption, displacement, simulation''). Swift and Eliot and Heaney make appearances, as does the island's last patch of true forest; Solnit gabs with a hermitess, with nomads, with pub-goers; she gets on her feet and walks to places whose names are like incantations: Dawnuknockane, Ballydehob, the coast of Clare, the Cliffs of Moher. Everywhere there is movement—from her own love of travel, of slipping out of ``a settled destiny in pursuit of stranger fates,'' to the waves of invasion and emigration that have pressed themselves into the national mythology. Her writing can be nimble, as when she gives her political slant on an event or conjures the particular taste of a place; it can have the abstracted quality of being lost deep in thought; and rarely, it can be labored when she overconsiders some character's makeup, some landscape's disposition. Truly exceptional, a paradise for readers of travel literature.

Pub Date: July 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-85984-855-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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