Heavy on historical summary yet gripping and profoundly informative.




The Observer associate editor McCrum (My Year Off: Rediscovering Life After a Stroke, 2008, etc.) rehearses the history of the English language, from Britannia to Bollywood, focusing on how it has transformed from one island’s language to “Globish,” a version of the language used by billions worldwide.

The author, who co-wrote the book and subsequent TV series The Story of English (both in 1986), begins with a definition of Globish, then moves through English, American and world history at a breathtaking pace, pausing only occasionally to elaborate on publications and people he identifies as key to the eventual hegemony of English. Among the former are the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, both of which influenced centuries of speakers and writers. The author looks at Gutenberg and Caxton, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and of course Shakespeare, “a master of artistic synthesis.” McCrum then focuses on the New World, providing accolades for Thomas Paine, Noah Webster, Abraham Lincoln—whose Gettysburg Address the author greatly admires—and Mark Twain, whom the author characterizes as a “founding father of the world’s English” because of his recognition of the power of common speech. The author also examines English and the slave trade, noting that captains on the Middle Passage separated slaves who spoke the same language, making English a pressing necessity for them to learn. McCrum covers Dr. Johnson, Dickens, the rise of the British Empire and the spread of English into India, Australia, Africa and elsewhere, spending more time on Winston Churchill and his rhetoric than on any other individual. After the Cold War, it’s Americanization, the Internet, EuroDisney, Thomas Friedman’s flat world and the astonishing datum that there are 175,000 new blogs per day. McCrum ends with extensive looks at modern China and India, where billions are learning English/Globish as a way to improve their economic potential. Still, he cautions, the world has 5,000 individual languages.

Heavy on historical summary yet gripping and profoundly informative.

Pub Date: May 24, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-06255-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet