A useful introduction to a portion of the world whose crowded history is not easily condensed.




A compact history of the Mediterranean’s largest island, the most frequently conquered spot on earth.

Sicily’s natural resources, agricultural importance and strategic location have made it a prize since antiquity. Benjamin (The World of Benjamin Tudela, 1995) separately chronicles the successive periods of Greek, Roman, Vandal, Goth, Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Bourbon and Italian occupation. The island’s geography, topography and climate remain fixed, but the art, architecture, cuisine, religion, education and government altered with each conquest. Sicily’s story is the tale of obsidian and sulfur, Zeus and Mohammed, the farmer and the sailor, the slave and the master, migration and emigration, war and more war. A procession of famous people—Archimedes, Empedocles, Cicero, Pompey, Caesar, Richard Lion Heart, Goethe, Coleridge, Nelson, Garibaldi and Patton—all played out at least a portion of their lives at this seemingly inevitable crossroad. No single volume can hope to do more than touch on so many topics or so many actors, making it likely that this one will be more often referred to than read through. Still, the unflagging author does an especially good job of explaining how history never quite goes away in Sicily, how through the accretion of centuries, through so many varied influences, the island’s unique culture has emerged. For the reader who knows Sicily only as an irregular triangle on the map, the home of volcanic Mt. Aetna, or the birthplace of the Mafia, the densely packed information here will seem overwhelming. This may account for the author’s occasionally awkward shifts in tone from the professorial to the jaunty, as if she feared readers would lose heart if she didn’t jolly them along.

A useful introduction to a portion of the world whose crowded history is not easily condensed.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58642-101-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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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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