An unfocused attempt to combine a biography of Tito, an account of Yugoslavia's rise and demise, and a weak argument about the centrality of religion to the region's conflict. British journalist West (A Hurricane in Nicaragua, 1990, etc.) frames his discussion of the breakup of Yugoslavia with a biography of Tito, ``the very personification of Yugoslavia.'' But his reader frequently loses sight of both Tito and current events amid a ramble through ancient Balkan history and an extended narrative of political events and personalities. The bulk of the book rests on secondary sources, especially biographies written by Tito's former comrades Milovan Djilas and Vladimir Dedijer. West's research is haphazard, though: Standard histories appear alongside obscure works, while other studies are bypassed. Instead of sustained argument, we are offered anecdotes and vignettes—Edward Gibbon on the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, Rebecca West on the town of Pritina in the 1930s, and Richard Burton, of all people, on Tito. The author is also given to making vapid generalizations. ``There was socialism but not much sociology in Yugoslavia,'' he writes, going on to assure readers that the country enjoys ``a good relationship between the sexes'' and is free of racism. (He obviously never spoke with any African students, gypsies, or Yugoslav women.) One of West's more interesting, if dubious, propositions is that Yugoslavia's dissolution has its roots in the religious rather than ethnic divisions among Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians. He offers the Irish/English split as a paradigm and makes much of the Catholic Church's activities in Croatia, giving far less attention to the Orthodox Church and the Muslims. But he never confronts competing theories of the present crisis, especially those arguing for the key role of manipulative politicians and of the media. Unsuccessful, both as original biography and as commentary on current events. (8 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-7867-0191-9

Page Count: 436

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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