Humorous and literate, if incomplete.



The conclusion of an entertaining three-volume hopscotch through English history, this one taking us from John Locke to Francis Crick.

Veteran historian and biographer Lacey (Grace, 1994, etc.) maintains the appealing conversational style of his two earlier installments. He juxtaposes the sublime (Waterloo, the Battle of Britain) with the criminal (highwayman Dick Turpin, murderer Dr. Crippen), the culturally or socially significant (Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, the rise of trade unionism) with the alarming and/or disgusting. He writes about nasty stuff floating in the Thames, and the squeamish should avoid his graphic paragraphs about the brutal breast-cancer surgery, sans anesthesia, endured by novelist Fanny Burney in 1811. Many of the selections offer no surprise: the Charge of the Light Brigade, the reign of Queen Victoria, the abdication of Edward VIII. But there are quiet and unexpected entries, too: the origin of the word “Luddite,” the publication of 1066 and All That (a book he greatly admires), the inventive 18th-century farmer Jethro Tull. It’s odd that Lacey doesn’t mention the rock group that adopted the farmer’s name, perhaps slightly less so that he neglects to tell us about Belle, or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen, which unsuccessfully attempted to turn an Edwardian murder into a 1960s West End musical. And the text contains occasional errors. Mary Godwin did run off with Percy Bysshe Shelley, but not, as the author says, to marry him; they were joined in a London church two years later in the presence of her father. Lacey includes some witty surprises—e.g., John Locke once attended the autopsy of a lion—and he offers a sly allusion to Wellington’s pulling on his boots.

Humorous and literate, if incomplete.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-11459-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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