This spirited jaunt into the peaks of Europe may inspire readers to pack their bags.




A tour through the Alps reveals history, geology, anthropology, and local customs.

As he frequently remarks, journalist and travel writer O’Shea (The Friar of Carcassonne: Revolt Against the Inquisition in the Last Days of the Cathars, 2011, etc.) is afraid of heights. Nevertheless, he decided to brave breathtakingly steep inclines and hairpin turns to investigate the dramatic political and cultural history of the French, German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. Traveling west to east, O’Shea drove a “souped-up” Renault Mégane Sport, a “muscle car” distinctive enough to attract attention in Geneva, where he began his journey. The French Alps, he notes, gave birth to Romanticism: Rousseau (“Switzerland’s most famous son”) set his sensational novel about Abelard and Heloise along the shores of Lake Geneva, and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein there. Besides abundant literary references throughout his ebullient narrative, the author traces the mountains’ role in war and conquest: Hannibal, Napoleon, and Hitler all make appearances. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, he visited a museum documenting the Nazi-dominated Winter Olympics of 1936. He also chronicles his visit to Heidiland, a cheesy theme park cashing in on the popularity of Joanna Spyri’s children’s book; discovers that the famed Saint Bernard rescue dogs did not carry kegs of brandy; relates famous mountaineers’ “heart-stopping tales of danger courted and overcome”; and offers chilling descriptions of the “arduous and sinuous” routes he traversed. After being shrouded by fog, he saw “a horrific vista of yawning emptiness”; sheer cliffs and looming mountains “stretch to the heavens, gray rock and white snow in a stirring melodrama of nature.” He stopped in quaint villages, where he ate local specialties, all recounted in detail. O’Shea occasionally punctuates his otherwise brisk narrative with jarring imagery: he sees the Matterhorn “sheathed in clouds, like a burlesque dancer teasing the tourists staring up at it”; and he insists on describing bikers in reference to national cuisine: “a bratwurst of German bikers,” “a soufflé” of French.

This spirited jaunt into the peaks of Europe may inspire readers to pack their bags.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24685-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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