An engrossing account of Paris under Napoleon III, from the palaces and opera houses to the barricades and cafÇs. Christiansen (Romantic Affinities, 1988) has crafted a sensitive portrait of Paris, seen by many as a modern Babylon of sex and sin, and by others as a contemporary Jerusalem alive with a spirit of innovation. The subtitle is misleading, for the author doesn't arrive at the Commune until 300 pages into the work. Yet the book's strong point is its structure: It begins with an introductory tourist guide to Paris, culled from contemporary sources, from which we learn that ``one French appetite is sufficient for two Anglo-Saxon appetites'' and that ``Paris, the City of Light is a veritable charivari of pleasure after nightfall.'' Seven chapters examine the social, political, and cultural life of Paris under the reign of Napoleon III. From the micro to the macro, from the public to the personal, Christiansen lays bare the virtues and vices of the first modern city. During war with Prussia (187071), Paris was besieged for five months and suffered the indignity of having Prussian troops march through the heart of the city. Here Christiansen switches to a day-by-day description of the siege, the civil war, and the birth of the Commune in March, a popularly elected left-wing (though not Marxist) municipal government. The city was immediately besieged again, this time by the Versailles army determined to exterminate the virus of communism. The Commune descended into a paroxysm of fire, violence, and barbarity. The army of Versailles suffered 877 casualties while slaughtering tens of thousands of communards. Christiansen concludes that the cause of such barbarism is never far from the surface of civilization and that our contemporary society bears a frightening resemblance to Parisian society before the Commune. An entertaining, disturbing excursion through the City of Light at a defining moment in French history, led by a capable guide.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-670-83131-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

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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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