A soft-pedaling history that packs a lot of synthesis into a palatable-enough package.




An all-encompassing survey of how the Eastern practice took hold in America.

On the heels of Robert Love’s The Great Oom (2010)—an entertaining portrait of early yoga impresario Pierre Bernard and his popular health center—journalist Syman casts a wider net, uncovering yoga’s growth since the mid-19th century. In tackling the challenge of how to define yoga, the author’s study suffers from a kind of amorphous, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink syndrome. Syman continually probes into whether yoga is a religion or a health practice, and traces how proponents from Ralph Waldo Emerson to the Beatles fashioned it in their own way. Emerson’s discovery of “Hindoo” scriptures led to a lifelong fascination with Eastern thought, helping shape the transcendental message in his writings and poetry, while Thoreau’s Walden was the product of an ascetic in the yogi tradition. Thoreau “transmuted his work into an act of devotion,” writes the author, and “made a religion of writing.” Eastern gurus like Swami Vivekananda were featured at the World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, and invited to teach at places like Green Acre, Maine, attracting mostly women. Bernard spread the benefits of Hatha Yoga—involving physically demanding breathing and body positions—from San Francisco to New York, and his nephew Theos Bernard traveled to the source, India and Tibet, and wrote popular books on the subject. Even Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Margaret eschewed the conventional lot for an “ideal life” as a seeker in India. Once yoga hit Hollywood, thanks to itinerant ex-pat Brits Gerald Heard and the Huxleys, stars like Gloria Swanson used it famously as their “youth and beauty secret.” Syman moves fluidly through the heady psychedelic years to the “new penitents” of today (e.g., Bikram), who like their yoga “sweaty and religious.”

A soft-pedaling history that packs a lot of synthesis into a palatable-enough package.

Pub Date: June 29, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-23676-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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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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