A series of imaginative and fanciful narrative segments—a history that is not all gloom and doom.

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BERLIN

PORTRAIT OF A CITY THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Berlin’s greatest hits, from the age of the medieval troubadour to David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

Canadian travel writer MacLean (Gift of Time: A Family's Diary of Cancer, 2011, etc.) walks through Berlin’s fluctuating, unstable past and plucks personalities that best represent the spirit of the city, good or evil, reaching all the way back to the 15th century. He seeks “to map this place, divided as it is between past and present, conformity and rebellion, the visible and the invisible.” Berlin, writes the author, “was never an ethnic German city,” but it always attracted newcomers; during times of plague, there were influxes of Franks, Flemings, Rhinelanders and Danes, as well as Jews—the oldest Jewish gravestone is from 1244. The accession of the austerely militaristic Calvinist Hohenzollern dynasty transformed Berlin from a garrison to a great and beautiful city under the enlightened despot Frederick the Great, who was able to lure Voltaire there to live and work in 1750. MacLean’s minibiographies underscore the highly idiosyncratic temperament these characters imparted to the city, and in his own fictionalized, stylized portraits, he offers the artistically brilliant—such as 19th-century architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, whose Altes Museum, among other fantastically neoclassical creations, helped forge a sense of a capital city—as well as the obscure and mythical, such as Silesian factory worker Lilli Neuss, a terrible casualty of the mid-19th-century industrial revolution, whose husband deserted her and took their son, leaving her to an impecunious and miserable fate. The city nurtured plenty of evil, as well—e.g., Fritz Haber, the chemist who won the Nobel Prize and offered effective chemical warfare to the Kaiser in 1915 in the form of chlorine; and Hitler’s fanatical mythmakers, including Leni Riefenstahl, Albert Speer and Joseph Goebbels.

A series of imaginative and fanciful narrative segments—a history that is not all gloom and doom.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05186-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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 clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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