The author raises a curtain to show us events largely unknown in the West—yet achingly familiar as well.

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AUTUMN IN THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM

CHINA, THE WEST, AND THE EPIC STORY OF THE TAIPING CIVIL WAR

During years that overlapped the American Civil War, the Chinese were engaged in their own self-destructive conflict (1851–1864), which eventually claimed more than 20 million lives.

Platt (Chinese History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; Provincial Patriots: The Hunanese and Modern China, 2007) maintains a generally descriptive, analytical, dispassionate voice, despite the savagery, arrogance and absolute mercenary and/or egotistical motives of the principal players. The author begins in 1853 with a quick description of the Qing dynasty, then in its second century of sway. Rising in opposition was the so-called Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, whose sub-monarchs went by names like Brave King and Loyal King. Weaving their way into the fabric were various Western Christian missionaries hoping to covert the masses, aligning themselves with the rebels, who were infused with a sort of hybrid Christianity. The French and British nervously observed, concerned about protecting their trade channels, sometimes venturing into battle, supplying arms, ships and leadership. Although there were too few of them in country to occupy territory, Platt shows that the armaments and early support were important factors in the eventual defeat of the initially dominant Taiping. By 1861, of course, the Americans were engaged in their own civil war; the North feared the British would side with the Confederacy and were relieved when they opted for China instead. Platt tells all of these stories in a seamless narrative, moving gracefully from one point of view to the next, relating strategies, presenting personalities and illuminating political complexities. In general, he allows the horrors of war—mass executions, rapes, starvation, cannibalism, cholera and overall depravity—to speak for themselves.

The author raises a curtain to show us events largely unknown in the West—yet achingly familiar as well.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-27173-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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