THE FORBIDDEN BESTSELLERS OF PRE-REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE

Continuing his expert exploration of 18th-century French publishing and reading, Darnton (Berlin Journal, 1991, etc.) takes on the salacious, seditious, and sociological natures of the potboilers banned and in high demand during the reign of Louis XV. Whatever the debate over the responsibility borne by Rousseau and Voltaire for the French Revolution, they shared the bestseller lists with less notable yet audacious authors, whose works were censored and sold under the euphemistic category of ``philosophic'' literature. These included ThÇräse philosophe, which combined the erotic spirit with that of the Enlightenment; the futuristic utopia of L'An 2440 with Juvenalian attacks in its footnotes; and the pornographic and libelous (even revolutionary, in Darnton's thesis) biography of Louis XV's last mistress, Anecdotes sur Mme la comtesse du Barry. Culled from his companion volume, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 17691789 (to be published by Norton in March; $32.50; ISBN: 0-393-03745-2), these bestsellers, and their sellers, provide Darnton with an idiosyncratic and iconoclastic guide to the Old Regime and its citizens, from which he then speculates on pre-Revolution culture and discourse. Darnton has a gift for collating immense amounts of data (here mainly the extensive records of a Franco-Swiss publisher/book wholesaler), bringing to life the circumstances of bookselling ``under the cloak,'' and reading between the lines of books ``to be read with one hand,'' in Rousseau's words. Less successfully, Darnton tries to address their importance to the French Revolution, admitting his lack of documented reader response. As an added bonus, though, the final section provides condensed versions of the three cited forbidden books, which have both the quaint flavor of the antiquarian and the cheap, universal attraction of trash. A fascinating, if peculiar, study of the flip side of Enlightenment France's Great Books, though the broader implications are just out of this volume's reach. (Photos, maps, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-393-03720-7

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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...

NIGHT

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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