A marvelously engrossing biography of Hern†n CortÇs (1485- 1547) that brings the intrepid conquistador and his exploits to vivid life. Drawing chiefly on narratives left by contemporary annalists and church scholars, Marks (Three Men of the Beagle, 1991) offers an essentially favorable portrait of the well-born soldier of fortune who in 1504 left Spain for the West Indies. Having participated in Hispaniola's subjugation of Cuba, CortÇs was chosen to lead a trading mission to Mexico. In the wake of his 1519 arrival, he founded Vera Cruz, burned the expedition's ships to prevent desertions, and, in search of gold and glory (and with hordes of indigenous allies disaffected by Aztec rule following him), marched on Montezuma's mountain city of Tenochtitl†n. CortÇs gained both riches and fame, defeating in mid-1521—after a three- month siege that cost both sides dearly—the valiant residents of what's now Mexico City. The captain then extended his triumph, eventually claiming most of northern Central America for the Spanish crown, but, while Carlos V made him a marquis, CortÇs was denied the governorship of Mexico. The conquistador died at age 62 in his homeland, neglected by a court preoccupied with European concerns. In retelling the dramatic story of a conquering hero whom history hasn't treated altogether kindly, Marks focuses on the probity, military acumen, and piety displayed by his subject in campaigns against foes ranging from native tribes to fellow Spaniards. The author argues that, while CortÇs couldn't sympathize with Mesoamerica's Indians (who engaged in cannibalism and human sacrifice), he empathized with them to the extent that many fought in his cause. Nor does Marks fail to note that, although CortÇs is buried in the hospital he built in 1524 in Mexico's future capital city, there's no public monument to his memory anywhere in that country. A rousing but thoughtful account of an Old World warrior in conflict with ancient civilizations whose virtues, shortcomings, and cruelties were substantively different from those of his own culture. (Twenty photographs)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-40609-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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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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