Roman history enthusiasts will find new material to digest and general readers, useful context for the Roman way of life.

PERTINAX

THE SON OF A SLAVE WHO BECAME ROMAN EMPEROR

An authoritative new history unearths the true story of a slave’s son who rose through the ranks to become the Roman Empire’s most powerful man.

Publius Helvius Pertinax (126-193 C.E.) was a military officer and civil servant who packed several lifetimes into his 66 years. Though he only served 86 days before he was assassinated, military historian and archaeologist Elliott takes the basic elements of his story to fashion a mostly readable account of his life. After years as a teacher, Pertinax switched careers at age 35 and entered the military, embarking on a “dizzying upward trajectory” capped by his short-lived reign as emperor. He occupied posts in Rome’s sophisticated military and governing machines in empire hot spots like Syria, Carthage, and Britannia, “the wild west of the Roman Empire,” where he served as governor and survived an assassination attempt by mutinous legionnaires. He endured periods of banishment but always came back to move further up the ladder of rank, prestige, and wealth. After the “deluded” Emperor Commodus was assassinated, Pertinax was drafted by the Senate to become the new emperor. But he ran afoul of the Praetorian Guard, a state-sanctioned band of mercenaries ready to sell the empire's throne to the highest bidder. Pertinax’s story shows how an ordinary Roman citizen—even the son of a slave—could negotiate a rigid class and caste system. Elliott, author of several books about Roman affairs, has a deep understanding of Roman life, especially as it was lived in Britannia. His challenge is that there is very little personal information in accounts of Pertinax’s life, and he fills the gaps with more particulars about military life than are likely to interest general readers. The author vividly documents Pertinax’s last days and effectively captures the tenor of the era, a time awash in corruption and violence.

Roman history enthusiasts will find new material to digest and general readers, useful context for the Roman way of life.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78438-525-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Greenhill Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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