An expectant moment in the history of southern Africa—a whole culture’s survival hangs in the balance—portrayed by an author...



Encounters with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, retold by journalist and travel writer Isaacson.

The Bushmen have been forced to move time and again, both within and outside their traditional lands. But, as Isaacson (The Wild Hunt, not reviewed, etc.) explains, they are currently facing a new threat, sort of their own private Highland clearance, as cattle ranchers fence the land they use, driving off or killing the game that Bushmen hunt for their livings. The Bushmen are perhaps the oldest surviving culture on Earth, so it isn’t surprising that they aren’t taking this state of affairs lying down. Land claims have been filed in the courts, and violent resistance has been resorted to. But suddenly the Bushmen must contend with a bureaucracy, and the methods of approach have caused crises and dissention in their ranks. There are quarrels between traditionalists and moderns and between young and old, the squabbling that comes with too much alcohol, the cultural anomie, the toll taken by years of genocide and degradation. Then again, Isaacson encounters the pure fabric of everyday resistance: Bushmen living by the hunt and women gathering foodstuffs, the dance and song that manage a cross-cultural leap and touch Isaacson’s soul. There are also the healers, shape-shifters, and mischief-makers, one of whom performs a healing dance for the author—and it’s impossible to doubt his feelings of bien-être after the experience. Isaacson polls the black ranchers, the remnant white population, and members of the game park profession, and he finds the whole range of feelings, from outright hostility to the Bushmen, through a bigoted paternalism, on to genuine respect. Isaacson reveals a world in flux and ready for new seismic shifts.

An expectant moment in the history of southern Africa—a whole culture’s survival hangs in the balance—portrayed by an author who digs enthusiastically for signs of a genuine persistence of the Bushmen.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8021-1739-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?