An impressive history of global clashes, religious zealotry, and economic triumph.




Portugal’s bloody, defiant imperial adventure.

In a riveting narrative, Crowley (City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, 2012, etc.) chronicles Portugal’s horrifically violent trajectory from “impoverished, marginal” nation to European power, vying with Spain and Venice to dominate the spice trade. The story begins in 1479, when Spanish and Portuguese delegates met in Tordesillas, Spain, “to bargain for the world.” The rival countries, intent on finding a sea route to the Indies, “simply cut the globe in two with a vertical line through the Atlantic Ocean.” With Isabella and Ferdinand funding explorers such as the “unreliable fabulist” Columbus, King Manuel of Portugal made his own grand plans. “Manuel,” writes the author, “was incapable of distinguishing men of true merit from the inept, the corrupt, and the self-interested.” Among the worst was the ferocious Vasco da Gama, angry, short-tempered, and a fanatical hater of Muslims. He became the face of Portugal for sultans, villagers, and seamen as his fleet pillaged, threatened, murdered, and dismembered in their assault on Africa and India. Crowley describes in gory detail Portugal’s collision with “a polyethnic world…more deeply layered and complex” than they could understand, a world that fueled the “deeply rooted idea of holy war as a Portuguese vocation.” The author also vividly re-creates the dire conditions endured by explorers and their crews. Food deteriorated, and worms devoured biscuits and meat as well as the boards of ships; drinking water became increasingly foul, and scurvy could wipe out an entire crew in 111 days. The Portuguese project came to be overseen by Afonso de Albuquerque, a “highly intelligent, tortured man” who applied the nation’s technological expertise to a flexible strategy of defensible forts, a network of bases, and “the necessity for exemplary violence” against Muslims.

An impressive history of global clashes, religious zealotry, and economic triumph.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9400-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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