A pleasure for students of modern history, especially useful for those seeking an introduction to the broad field of...

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THE SHAPE OF THE NEW

FOUR BIG IDEAS AND HOW THEY MADE THE MODERN WORLD

A broad survey of the ideas that have driven modern history since the 19th century—and on account of which millions of lives have been changed for good or ill.

According to Montgomery (Does Science Need a Global Language?: English and the Future of Research, 2013, etc.) and Chirot (Contentious Identities: Ethnic, Religious and National Conflicts in Today's World, 2011, etc.), both professors at the University of Washington, these ideas are fourfold, resting in the single persons of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin, and then in the struggle between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton over the nature of the new republic that would grow from certain parallel and antecedent ideas. The first two are economic in nature, the third biological, and the fourth political. But all are political, of course, and the authors nicely move to depersonified history by examining deeper values: the idea embodied by Smith, for instance, that “individuals should have the freedom to make all essential decisions affecting their material and moral lives.” The authors’ argument is fluent and mainly unobjectionable; as intellectual historians, it is their bread and butter to maintain that ideas matter, and the ideas they enumerate have inarguably “structured the modern world.” Their later elaborations sometimes seem a stretch, if by modern world one means modern ideas, which would discount some of their cases. The book is academic in outlook and attitude and sometimes in execution. The prose is accessible, though, and the narrative is well-written, made more interesting by the authors’ willingness to tangle with tough constituencies and mount tough arguments—against, say, the narrowness of religious fundamentalists or the aridity of “postmodern pedagogy and scholarship,” with their lamentable habit of reducing the love of and insistence on reason as a species of evil.

A pleasure for students of modern history, especially useful for those seeking an introduction to the broad field of intellectual history. Barzun, Berlin, and Needham would likely argue at points, but this fits squarely in their tradition.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-15064-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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