An interesting take on Roman history focused on the peoples that resisted its growth and eventually brought about its...

THE ENEMIES OF ROME

THE BARBARIAN REBELLION AGAINST THE ROMAN EMPIRE

A history of Rome built around the empire’s battles against internal and external enemies.

Kershaw (Classics/Oxford Univ.; The Search for Atlantis: A History of Plato’s Ideal State, 2018, etc.) begins with the “founding of the city” in 753 B.C.E. and traces his theme through the fall of Rome in 476 C.E. Each chapter covers one of Rome’s major adversaries. The list of characters includes many of the best-known names in ancient history—Hannibal, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Attila the Hun—along with others many readers will probably encounter for the first time. The author provides solid minibiographies of most of them, sometimes making a point of debunking popular wisdom—e.g., Hannibal and Cleopatra were not black. Kershaw also gives us a good look at a number of prominent Romans (Pompey, Julius Caesar, Constantine) and at the early history of other parts of the world, notably the Middle East. A recurring theme is the question of what the ancients meant by “barbarian,” a definition that shifted as Rome absorbed Greek culture and then as the empire expanded to take in much of Western Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The Romans tended to draw highly stereotyped portraits of barbarian characters; their descriptions of the Goths and Huns make their enemies seem little better than animals. An exception was when one of them defeated a Roman general deemed to lack the proper Roman virtues; in this case, the “barbarian” is portrayed as an example of what his adversary should have been. Kershaw draws liberally on the original sources, including Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, and other historians, with occasional references to modern research. Given the enormous swath of history the book covers, it almost inevitably lacks a certain cohesiveness as the narrative moves from one threatened frontier to another, often skipping several generations. Readers will find themselves referring frequently to the maps. Though this isn’t the first Roman history one should read, it adds a fascinating dimension for anyone with a broad knowledge of the subject.

An interesting take on Roman history focused on the peoples that resisted its growth and eventually brought about its destruction.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-310-2

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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