A nimble and knowledgeable but long-winded cabinet of curiosities.




A cheerful, dryly unserious survey and travelogue through the landscape and psyche of Germany.

British writer Winder (The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond, 2006) slips as giddily into discussing the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War as the awfulness of German cuisine, the pogroms that seized German towns in the wake of the Napoleonic wars as the family tree of the Hohenzollerns. The author works with a meandering, loose chronology, beginning with the fantasy of ancient Germania as “a land of forest and personal freedom” and ending after World War II, when the incomparable richness of German history and achievement was “replaced with messianic infantilism.” Winder explains that first visiting Strasbourg cathedral as a young teen awakened his awareness of “an aesthetic sense,” and that he has been fascinated by Germany as Britain’s “weird twin” ever since. As a Brit, he has been inculcated in the horrors of German militarism, which since World War I essentially shuttered all intellectual and cultural curiosity about its golden prewar years, once “an intolerably poignant place” depicted in Thomas Mann’s early novels, now a “sort of dead zone.” The author makes a dogged, gracious attempt to re-engage with what is remarkable about Germany, or at least interesting and moving, even in its grotesqueness—often in the manner of W.G. Sebald, whom Winder evidently reveres. In his travels, Winder has galloped across the countryside in search of the German echt and on the way stopped at every notable castle, cathedral, walled town and bulky monument from Aachen to Wittenberg. The author’s characterization of the Germans veers from insultingly clichéd to charmingly illuminative. In the final chapters, he offers an impressive discussion of the shattering effects of World War I, both on Germany and the world.

A nimble and knowledgeable but long-winded cabinet of curiosities.

Pub Date: March 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-25400-1

Page Count: 460

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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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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