A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.




The story of two British aristocrats who aimed to change their world.

TV producer Welfare creates a vibrant portrait of British society through his animated, well-informed dual biography of John Gordon (1847-1934) and his wife, Ishbel (1857-1939), the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who were his wife’s great-grandparents. Drawing on copious family papers—letters, diaries, rent books, financial ledgers—as well as the couple’s joint memoir, Welfare follows the peripatetic lives of John and Ishbel, famous among their incredulous peers for their devotion to social reform. Luminaries of high society—the Archbishop of Canterbury, members of the royal family, and even Queen Victoria herself were among their many guests—they spared no expense on their reform efforts. Even cruising the Nile River on their honeymoon, they set up “impromptu clinics” to address dire health needs: “the first of countless enlightened, innovative, and often expensive ways in which, over nearly sixty years, Johnny and Ishbel worked to improve social conditions wherever they went. And they cared not a hoot if they risked the contempt of their peers by taking their campaigns to the slum dwellers.” Welfare unfolds his narrative by focusing on the grand houses in which Lord and Lady Aberdeen lived in London, Ireland, Canada, and Scotland. Just outside Aberdeen, Ishbel founded the Haddo House Association, which “acted as a virtual school, allowing housemaids and cooks to study at home in their quarters or in the servants’ hall,” with local ladies “cajoled into acting as tutors.” In Canada, she established the Victorian Order of Nurses to attend to medical needs in remote areas. Her campaign to address the spread of tuberculosis in Ireland earned her the derisive nickname “Viceregal Microbe.” As the author demonstrates in this fluid narrative, the couple persisted in their charitable projects even when house expenses, travel, failure of several Canadian ranches, and years of generous hospitality brought them to the brink of bankruptcy.

A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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