A stylish, erudite meditation worthy of its provocative subject.

THE MIRROR

A HISTORY

Beginning with a tale of early modern industrial espionage, newcomer Melchior-Bonnet considers the mirror’s significance in moral, religious, and philosophical discourse throughout history.

In the 17th century, Venetian craftsmen were smuggled into France to staff the Royal Glass Company in an attempt to undermine the Italian monopoly. The Venetian government retaliated with kidnappings, forged letters, and other subterfuges to protect what they regarded as a state secret: the techniques of mirror manufacture. Out of the ensuing battle for a growing market emerged technological developments that transformed the mirror from a rare and costly object into a staple artifact of modern experience. From antiquity onward, mirrors stood for what is most wonderful and problematic about sight, both defining and extending the limits of vision. During the Middle Ages the mirror’s religious impact was twofold: in the humanist tradition, it served as a reminder of how the human body reflected the divine image; but another vein of Christian morality viewed the mirror as a tool of Satan, a snare especially for women, whose sexuality it made monstrous and threatening. The mirror’s social function as an instrument of self-knowledge similarly engendered a dual aspect: it was a dispassionate observer, judging the gazer's looks and demeanor on behalf of the public eye; and also a secret partner and accomplice, conspiring to blot out consideration of anything but the self. To the mirrors of truth and vanity are added the distorting mirror of madness, which alters what it reflects to reveal fresh truths or terrors, and the permeable mirror of dreams, which presents an alternative and contingent reality. Bonnet-Melchior discusses all these ideas in terms of representative literary, philosophical, and pictorial texts spanning the centuries. These readings are uneven: the author clearly knows more about literature and philosophy than she does about art, but the scope of her ideas and her evident ease with the broad range of materials compensate for occasional interpretive weaknesses. Alas, they must also overcome the translator's inappropriate colloquialisms and botched allusions.

A stylish, erudite meditation worthy of its provocative subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2001

ISBN: 0-415-92447-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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