A resourcefully imaginative examination of our desperate search for an explanation of ultimate evil. In the vast literature on Hitler and the Holocaust, one question recurs again and again: Why? If the “how” (the mechanics and bureaucracy) of the “final solution” has been detailed, then the vexatious “why” still haunts the world’s collective conscience. Rosenbaum (Travels with Dr. Death, 1991; Manhattan Passions, 1987), a New York Observer cultural affairs columnist, brings a journalist’s vigorous, querying temperament to a topic that all too often drowns in opaque pedantic moralizing. Rosenbaum has read extensively and thoughtfully; he also casts a wide intellectual net, writing chapters on the interpretive musings of H.R. Trevor-Roper, Alan Bullock, Yehuda Bauer, the philosopher Berel Lang, literary critic George Steiner, filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, and even the Hitler apologist and revisionist David Irving. (Conspicuously and curiously absent is Primo Levi, whose work The Drowned and the Saved is a classic in the field.) Potentially explosive subjects—for example, Hitler’s reportedly “abnormal” sexuality—are handled with discerning intelligence. Rosenbaum employs a brilliant methodological stratagem by taking Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 study, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, as a model. Schweitzer realized that the 19th-century school of German Protestant “higher criticism,” which prided itself on its “scientific” positivism in explaining Jesus, actually revealed more about scholars themselves than the historical figure they were studying. Similarly, Rosenbaum shows how the various attempts to “explain” Hitler are prisms that reflect our own fears and desires. This leads, of course, to the not insignificant matter of Rosenbaum’s own fears and desires, ironically not fully addressed by the author. Yet his great contribution is that, unlike most Holocaust scholars, he refuses to offer a definitive explanation. Instead, he lays out with memorable clarity a series of tantalizing interpretations, preferring a “poetry of doubt” that allows us to grapple for ourselves with the question of evil. Profound and provocative. (Author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-43151-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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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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