General readers seeking enlightenment should skip the middle 75% of the book and go read Voltaire.



A dusty window into the obscure world of the burgeoning publishing industry in 18th-century France and its environs.

At the time, the regulation of the industry and the resulting economics engendered a new enterprise: pirate publishing. Only a narrow band of elites could afford to produce and buy books, an economic reality that created a market ripe for counterfeiting. Without copyright laws, however, it was not technically illegal to reproduce these works outside of France. Thus began the “Fertile Crescent” of underground bookmaking. “From Amsterdam to Brussels, through the Rhineland, across Switzerland, and down to Avignon, which was papal territory in the eighteenth century, publishers pirated everything that could be sold with any success in France,” writes Darnton. “The foreign houses also produced everything that could not get past censors employed by the French government.” Though these literary bandits operated legally within their own countries, as soon as they smuggled their goods into France, they were on the wrong side of the law. In this erudite yet dry text, Darnton seems to have included every detail that emerged from his meticulous research, devoting attention to every book deal that did, or did not, occur for authors both familiar and unknown. Darnton offers some intriguing economic insights, though few are unique to the publishing industry. Still, literary-minded readers will be impressed with the process by which a small number of men and women transformed a small book club for nobles into the massive cultural force that we know today. To be sure, many were just trying to make a living, but we owe them a great debt nonetheless. Unfortunately, the dense scholarly prose may fail to capture an audience beyond academics and students of the business of the Enlightenment.

General readers seeking enlightenment should skip the middle 75% of the book and go read Voltaire.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-514452-9

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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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

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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