Many fine passages charged with Greenblatt’s passion and talent for storytelling can’t disguise the fact that he’s not quite...



The Pulitzer and National Book Award winner considers the enduring appeal and manifold interpretations of the biblical account of the first humans’ expulsion from paradise.

“How does something made-up become so compellingly real?” asks Greenblatt (Humanities/Harvard Univ.; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, 2011, etc.), positioning himself as a secular-minded admirer of a story that religious thinkers for millennia have struggled to fit within a coherent theological framework. The author notes that this tale of humanity’s origins was uncomfortably reminiscent for many early Christians of the pagan creation myths they scorned as absurd: the talking snake, the arbitrary deity, all those animals named in one day, etc. Some, like the Alexandrian scholar Origen Adamantius, tried to frame the story as an allegory about the evolution of the soul, but the interpretation that triumphed was that of St. Augustine, who insisted that the story of Adam and Eve was literally true. From that assertion flowed the concept of original sin, the denigration of sex, and the powerful strain of misogyny (it was all Eve’s fault) that characterized the Catholic Church for centuries. During the Renaissance—Greenblatt’s focus as a scholar and the subject of this book’s best pages—artists like Albrecht Dürer and writers such as John Milton sought to give the rebellious couple of Genesis a palpable human reality in images and literature, most thrillingly in Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost. When Greenblatt moves on to the challenges to belief in the literal truth of the Bible posed by Enlightenment philosophers and 19th-century scientists (culminating with Darwin’s The Origin of Species), his narrative speeds up and loses focus. The author seems to be making an argument for the enduring power of stories while decrying fundamentalism, but his point isn’t clear, and a final chapter positing a chimpanzee pair in Uganda as a present-day Adam and Eve is simply odd.

Many fine passages charged with Greenblatt’s passion and talent for storytelling can’t disguise the fact that he’s not quite sure what story he’s trying to tell here.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24080-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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