A touch on the dry side but a feast for classical scholars.




A detailed history of Rome’s transition from republic to empire, a disruptive, violent process.

Alston (Roman History/Royal Holloway, Univ. of London; The City in Roman and Byzantine Egypt, 2001, etc.) begins with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Caesar’s power was a threat to the continuance of the republic and to the authority of the senate. But instead of ending the threat, the murder set loose forces that gave it new momentum. To put the story in context, Alston steps back more than 100 years, when tension between the power of the senate and the rights of the Roman people led to the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, a tribune. From that point, he follows the course of history through the death of Augustus in A.D. 14. The author argues that recent historians have misunderstood the dynamics of Roman political culture, causing them to underplay the violence of the revolution. He also emphasizes the paradoxes of Roman society that created the opportunities for charismatic leaders to seize absolute power. Most readers, though, will find the narrative more compelling than the thesis. This is an incredibly rich period full of great characters and world-shaking events. The careers of Caesar, Pompey, Antony, Cleopatra, and Augustus are set against the inexorable emergence of a monarchy, carefully marketed by Augustus as the restoration of the very republic he was overthrowing. Alston sets these events in the context of Roman society, examining the effects on the ordinary people and the role of the army. Along the way, even readers with some grounding in classical history are likely to learn a good deal about the era. But while the history is engaging, Alston is working in territory mined by the likes of Shakespeare and Plutarch, tough acts for anyone to follow. Readers not already interested in the history of Rome may find this solid treatment of the subject something less than a page-turner.

A touch on the dry side but a feast for classical scholars.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-973976-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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