In the spirit of his Barcelona (1992), the art critic and cultural historian zooms through Roman history, from Romulus and Remus to today.

Hughes’ (Things I Didn’t Know, 2006, etc.) subtitle is a bit misleading—“personal history” composes but a nail or two in the impressive edifice he has erected—but few readers will complain about anything else. Though his focus is principally on architecture, painting and sculpture, he pauses occasionally to provide historical context, offer portraits of key personalities and grouse about popular culture. Hughes eviscerates The Da Vinci Code (“wretchedly ill-written”), religious fundamentalists (who, he says, have created no art above the level of “drive-in megachurches”), the belief in the virginity of Mary and the noisy crowds in the Sistine Chapel (“just shut the fuck up, please, pretty please, if you can, if you don’t mind, if you won’t burst”). He also raves about artists and artistic works he loves, injecting his text with heavy doses of superlatives: The Pantheon is “certainly the greatest of all surviving structures of ancient Rome”; the Sistine ceiling is “one of the world’s supreme sights.” (Hughes also gives a grand account of the debate about the recent cleaning of Michelangelo’s masterwork.) The author’s knowledge about individual artists and works—and about Roman history—is prodigious, but he is never is pedantic or dull. There are a couple of strange moments—do readers need to be told what Schadenfreude means? Isn’t it a stretch to say that Keats and Shelley were friends?—but mostly there are moments of delight and surprise. We learn that on the Grand Tour, Horace Walpole saw his dog eaten by a wolf in the Alps; we smell the streets of ancient Rome; we discover that hippos were among the animals that fought in the Colosseum. An appealing mixture of erudition about high culture and curmudgeonly complaints about low.


Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26844-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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