This is familiar ground all the way, and Schama brings little new scholarship to it. Still, he is a lucid and trustworthy...




The spry second installment of Schama’s projected three-volume history of the Sceptred Isle (the first volume not reviewed).

Though published as a big-ticket trade item by a resolutely hip press, Schama’s is an old-fashioned history, learned and literate, uninfluenced by prevailing notions of political correctness or historiographic theory; this is all about great men who dared to make a name for themselves and their nation, not about social tendencies or voiceless oppressed classes. Schama’s characters are thus well-known to readers even casually familiar with British history—oddballs such as Samuel Pepys, rebels such as William Blake and Daniel Defoe, philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and above all, sword-wielding reformers and warriors such as Oliver Cromwell and Lord Cornwallis. Collectively, though each in his own way, these men advanced their nation from a relative backwater of northwestern Europe to the status of world power, though not without cost over a tumultuous brace of centuries; as Schama (Rembrandt’s Eyes, 1999, etc.) notes, “Britain killed England. And it left Scotland and Ireland hemorrhaging in the field.” In the process, Britain remade whole nations—by, for instance, transplanting more than 100,000 Scots, Welsh, and English immigrants into Northern Ireland, which would be the source of centuries of trouble that “utterly dwarfed the related ‘planting’ on the Atlantic seaboard of North America.” It enacted a program of religious as well as ethnic cleansing, destroying the Catholic Church and other dissident sects. And it entrusted with sovereign power feckless kings such as Charles II and George III, who, despite severe limitations, oversaw Great Britain's imperial growth—a growth fueled by Europe’s “craze for hot, powerfully caffeinated beverages” as much as any formal plan.

This is familiar ground all the way, and Schama brings little new scholarship to it. Still, he is a lucid and trustworthy guide to the British past, and readers new to the subject will find this an attractive introduction and overview.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-6752-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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...


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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