Light fare as cultural histories go, but a pleasant stroll through the Romantic imagination.

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THE LADY AND HER MONSTERS

A TALE OF DISSECTIONS, REAL-LIFE DR. FRANKENSTEINS, AND THE CREATION OF MARY SHELLEY'S MASTERPIECE

A cultural biography that explores how Mary Shelley came to write her gothic classic.

Montillo (Literature/Emerson Coll.; Halloween and Commemorations of the Dead, 2009) discusses how Shelley’s world, as well as her life, informed the creation of Frankenstein. The basic story of how the novel came to be written—during an informal ghost-story competition among Mary, husband Percy, Lord Byron and assorted friends—is the stuff of legend. Perhaps less known is how the idea of bringing the dead back to life was already common currency. Well before Shelley’s birth, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani (source of the word galvanized) was hooking up electrical charges to dead frogs. His nephew, Giovanni Aldini, took matters further by conducting experiments on a dead felon. Percy Shelley, whose poetry had long been absorbed with immortality, was fascinated by this trend in science, which he would pass on to Mary. Entwined with the history of the idea is the history of the couple, which was tumultuous from the day married Percy met William Godwin’s brilliant young daughter; their lives would be rocked by infidelities, jealousies and the early death of a child. “Dream[t] that my little baby came to life again,” Mary wrote in a journal, an idea that may have helped inspire her future novel. Resurrection was in the air, both among doctors and artists. Montillo occasionally loses focus, getting a little overly involved in peripheral scandals and sensational tales, but the book is never dull. Mary Shelley lived in dramatic times, when life was too short to be boring.

Light fare as cultural histories go, but a pleasant stroll through the Romantic imagination.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-202581-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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