Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable.

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AMSTERDAM

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST LIBERAL CITY

The dynamic historical account of a vibrantly complex European city and the legacy of social, political and economic liberalism it bequeathed to the Western world.

Legalized prostitution, lax drug laws and a generous social welfare system have given Amsterdam a reputation for being “the most liberal place on earth.” But as cultural historian Shorto (Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason, 2008, etc.) points out, it is ultimately incorrect to say that the concept of liberalism itself, which “involves a commitment to individual freedom and individual rights…for everyone,” was born there. It is instead more correct to say that the ideas that inspired those thinkers who gave form to what liberalism was—John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, among others—arose from the peculiar set of geographical and cultural circumstances that attended the birth of Amsterdam. Since the Netherlands is “one vast river delta,” Dutch cities like Amsterdam came into being thanks to the development of organizations that depended on cooperation to deal with the ever-present threat of flooding. More importantly, the water-protected communities the Dutch built allowed them the freedom to also flourish as individuals. A spirit of tolerance pervaded all aspects of Dutch life. Medieval Amsterdam became home to religious dissidents. With the rise of mercantilism in the 16th century, it became headquarters of the United East India Company, “the world’s first multinational corporation.” Economic liberalism transformed Amsterdam into a rich cosmopolitan city, and wealth gave rise to a golden age in art, architecture and science. When the capitalistic excesses of the Industrial Revolution collided with socialist theory in the 19th and 20th centuries, a liberalism that honored the good of all, rather than just a privileged few, emerged. Shorto’s examination of Amsterdam’s colorful history offers important insights into the promise and possibility of enlightened liberalism.

Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53457-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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