Latter-day Orientalists and students of intellectual history will benefit greatly from this study, but so also will others...




“Oriental studies” once came wrapped in a dreariness dull enough to make its practitioners envy economists. Thanks to Edward Said, though, Irwin has a lively fight on his hands.

Orientalists, as students of Asian languages and cultures were once collectively called, had several motivations for their work, among them the hope of gaining past-through-the-present insight into the cultures of the Bible, the search for lost classical knowledge that had passed from the Greeks to the Arabs and not reemerged in Europe and the quest for expanded economic and political contact with Asia. Irwin (The Arabian Nights, 1994, etc.) here ushers several classical authors into the Orientalist ranks, including Herodotus, who “seems to have been singularly free of racial prejudice,” and Aristotle, who contrarily inclined to the view that Asians “tolerate despotic rule without resentment,” as if born to subjugation. Later generations of Orientalists, from Spain and Italy, but more famously from Germany and England, tended to see contemporary Asians as fallen from the great cultural heights of the past. While Irwin gives short shrift to the best-known Orientalists, particularly T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia, whom he considers a “fantasist”), he introduces general readers to others whom they may well never have heard of, such as the Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher. All of this comes by way of prologue to Irwin’s extended argument against the late soi-disant Palestinian scholar Said, who charged that Orientalism was a species of cultural imperialism, if not an instrument of imperialism outright. Irwin disagrees—vehemently so—noting especially (1) the contributions of actual Asians to Asian studies, particularly in the Middle East; and (2) that many of the best-known Western students and interpreters of Asian cultures were vigorously anti-imperialist in outlook.

Latter-day Orientalists and students of intellectual history will benefit greatly from this study, but so also will others charting the discourse between East and West.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2006

ISBN: 1-58567-835-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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