Engaging revelations about land and property, often discouraging but never dull.

LAND

HOW THE HUNGER FOR OWNERSHIP SHAPED THE MODERN WORLD

The latest sweeping, satisfying popular history from the British American author and journalist, this time covering a topic that many of us take for granted.

Having bought 123 acres north of New York City, Winchester muses on what land ownership means. At the most basic level, it means that “you have the right to call the police to throw anyone else off what the title documents say belongs to you.” Bronze Age farmers began the process of defining boundaries, but human ingenuity, technology, and avarice produced increasingly accurate markers, surveys, and maps that delineated national borders, a matter of obsessive concern to governments around the world. Winchester delivers a riveting history of mapmaking, which culminated over the past few centuries as heroic surveyors trudged with their instruments thousands of miles to produce charts that were both beautiful and dazzlingly precise. (For a particularly illuminating example, see Winchester’s The Map That Changed the World.) For most of history, human yearning for land outstripped that for money, and the author offers familiar, disheartening accounts of mass acquisitions and theft: Native America (and Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) to Whites, Arab Palestine to Jewish immigrants, Africa to European powers. Readers looking for inspiration will perk up to read about the Netherlands, which acquired its land from the sea and didn’t evict anyone. Although less well known than tech billionaires, America’s land billionaires are prospering, increasing their holdings by 50% since 2007. In fact, the top 100 own land equal to the size of Florida. With some exceptions, they are strangers to public spirit and sometimes fiercely opposed to anyone setting foot on even their wilderness property. The chapters on the Stalin-ordered mass famine in Ukraine and the shameful World War II imprisonment of Japanese Americans (and confiscation of their property) make for painful reading but important historical reminders. The author also discusses climate change and the land that continues to disappear as rising temperatures melt the ice caps.

Engaging revelations about land and property, often discouraging but never dull.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-293833-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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