A lucid survey of a time that invites all kinds of between-the-lines reading in quest for parallels to our own.

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THE CLASSICAL WORLD

AN EPIC HISTORY FROM HOMER TO HADRIAN

A sweeping history of the ancient Mediterranean.

Fox (Ancient History/Oxford Univ.; The Unauthorized Version, 1992, etc.) traces Greco-Roman history through three themes that have long interested classicists: freedom, justice and luxury. By this measure, the classical world did not fare very well, and Fox’s study becomes a somewhat depressing tale, inasmuch as only luxuria did well in the end, at least for those who had the talents and sesterces to enjoy it. As an ideal, the concept of freedom was perhaps the most important of the three; Fox begins with the Homeric poems, which he has no difficulty (unlike many classicists) in attributing to a single person—or perhaps a single person per epic—who lived around 750–730 b.c. “What we now read has probably been tidied up and added to in places,” he writes, “but at least there was a monumental poet at work.” (Farewell, Millman Parry.) Homeric ideals were translated into education, with all its famed and defamed pederasty, and then into notions of cultural difference that tended to be fairly benign—except, perhaps, in the case of the Jews; those ideals also figured in later concepts of democracy, which Athens, for one, attempted to impose on its neighbors, whence the Peloponnesian War. The Greeks accounted the Romans barbarians, and given the behavior of the Julio-Claudian ruling clan, they had a point: Rome’s first emperors made it a point to restrict freedom, with Augustus, of the “conservative revolution,” the Jerry Falwell of his time, and Augustus’ successors, the kind to give moralists nightmares, with penchants for incest, fratricide, intrigue and conquest. Although ordinary Romans remained sensible—as Fox writes of the warped emperor Claudius, “His death was joyfully received by the common people”—their rulers did not, yielding, in time, a spectacular decline and fall.

A lucid survey of a time that invites all kinds of between-the-lines reading in quest for parallels to our own.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-465-02496-3

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Basic

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...

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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