Useful enough to Ambrose’s many diehard fans. General readers will find this hurried collection less than compelling.

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TO AMERICA

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS OF A HISTORIAN

A blend of memoir, canned book-talks, and synopses by the prolific historian.

Its title hints at something of a love letter to the country that has provided so much grist for his ever-turning mill, but this entry in the vast Ambrosian library is a breezy, self-congratulatory survey of the author’s career (The Wild Blue, 2001, etc.), summarizing both his bestsellers and lesser-known works. Along the way, Ambrose ventures offhand explanations of why history is suddenly a popular field of study (“At the beginning of the 21st century, our students know that they live in the richest and freest nation that ever was and they want to know how that happened”) while revisiting the origins of some of his books, such as the biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower that launched his career as a popular writer. (Ike picked Ambrose personally on the strength of his M.A. thesis on Civil War general Henry Wager Halleck, Lincoln’s chief of staff.) Ambrose’s tone is informal and unchallenging throughout: “I have written 2,155 pages on Dick Nixon. . . . Was it worth it? You are damned right”; “World War II continues to fascinate because it was so stupendous”; “the making of the bomb showed that there is almost nothing mankind cannot do.” His narrative wanders from weightless considerations of the national character (“It seems to me that perhaps our greatest strength is that American kids are brought up to know right from wrong”) to cursory assessments of the relative merits of leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and, of course, Eisenhower, for whom Ambrose has much praise. Nixon, however, is another matter, and the author’s account of an unpleasant encounter with the president and the effects thereof on his professorial career is one of the few high points here.

Useful enough to Ambrose’s many diehard fans. General readers will find this hurried collection less than compelling.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2002

ISBN: 0743252128

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2002

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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