Admirers of contemporary European literature and continental philosophy will find this engaging and provocative.

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THE UNNAMABLE PRESENT

Italian polymath and publisher Calasso (The Art of the Publisher, 2015, etc.) continues his multivolume exploration of the origins of modernity and the modern world.

In The Ruin of Kasch (1983), the author examined the rise of nationalism and its twin, totalitarianism. In the present, comparatively slender volume, he looks at the world that has resulted, a world of unfixed meanings and constant dread. At midpoint comes a remark on artificial intelligence in the form of a programmer’s quip about gorillas fashioning humans and then realizing they are still gorillas. How to keep the machines from taking over? Calasso answers: “Create doubt, uncertainty in robots. Make them humble. Teach them not to follow programs too literally.” So it is with humans, whose various quests for meaning have led to fundamentalism here and agnosticism there. These days, we fight not over things that lie beyond and above society “but at society itself,” abandoning norms, substituting new ones, arguing over what is politically correct and not. Meanwhile, well, suffice it to say that Calasso rejects aspects of relativism, certainly those that defend Islamic extremism. His reasons are subtly developed and delivered episodically, more akin to Hitchens than Fallaci: “The freedom of the shari‘a,” he writes, “is not compatible with that of the Founding Fathers.” Sometimes the author’s argument can be a little scattershot and even obvious, as when he introduces tourism into the modern mix and then complains that no tourist would dream of wearing silly tourist garb at home. Mostly, though, the book is a deeply learned if allusive disquisition that brings in Walter Benjamin, Leibniz, the Bhagavad-Gita, and various TED talkers. The two-page ending, turning on a dream of Baudelaire’s, is a tour de force and among the most memorable things Calasso has written over the course of his series.

Admirers of contemporary European literature and continental philosophy will find this engaging and provocative.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-27947-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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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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