A delightful history in which the author truly captures “the soul of the North.”

SCANDINAVIANS

IN SEARCH OF THE SOUL OF THE NORTH

An eye-opening history of a region and culture “vibrant with people, noise, chance, life.”

In this valuable study—not merely a recounting of the stereotypes regarding Vikings and their rampaging ways—award-winning writer and translator Ferguson (Kierkegaard: Great Thinkers on Modern Life, 2015, etc.) searches for the deepest soul of Scandinavia, traversing three countries (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) once united under a single monarch. The author also includes Iceland, a former territory of Denmark, then Norway, and home of the purest form of their shared ancient language, Old Norse. Much of this lucid book unfolds like a series of short stories, tales told Ferguson by friends, literary connections, and even strangers. In 1969, at age 20, the British author took off on a lark to Sweden and Denmark, and, despite some misadventures, his love for Scandinavia was born. He moved to Norway in 1983 and has lived there ever since. Playing tour guide for his wife, Ferguson exuberantly relates his explorations. Searching deeper proves difficult, as many of the histories of Scandinavia were written by her enemies. The Vikings were in everyone’s history books, of course, and while the classic portrayal of the Norsemen reflected a bellicose nature, the author rejects that view. The Vikings had great respect for the rule of law and strong rites to which they adhered faithfully. What Ferguson is really searching for is the essence of their psyche and how the idea of the melancholy, brooding man replaced the specter of the bloodthirsty conqueror. Different theories cross his path, such as the vast loneliness of the landscape; however, at the same time, that loneliness has produced so many geniuses in a variety of fields. Ferguson also astutely examines the idea that history isn’t always what you think it was; it depends on the recorder, and the past can change its shape.

A delightful history in which the author truly captures “the soul of the North.”

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1482-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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