A passionately presented book that offers sparkling tangents for further study.



A history of the startling scientific innovations that rose to meet disconcerting troubles in revolutionary France.

Jones (Genetics/Univ. Coll. London; The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science, 2013, etc.) fashions an elegant, somewhat meandering, and never dull narrative about the rich contributions by Age of Enlightenment–era French scientists who were encouraged by the wobbly state and monarchy to come up with solutions to mankind’s many problems. These involved addressing famine, correct measurements (the metric system), modern maps, new crops, and the establishment of new observatories and academies. Many of these scientists—all male save for mathematician Sophie Germain and, later, chemist Marie Curie—were members of the Collège de France (which received a “spring clean” by Louis XV’s finance minister, the economist Jacques Turgot) or the Royal Academy of Sciences. They included well-educated aristocrats who were also civic-minded—e.g., the radical Jean-Paul Marat, who was trained in medicine and known for conducting studies of venereal infections. In Paris, the wild enthusiasm for the electrical experiments of adopted Frenchman Benjamin Franklin occurred “at a period when science had entered the public arena, and when there seemed to be almost no limit to what it could do.” In a loosely thematic approach, Jones delves into the world-changing experiments and research by these able and daring scientists, beginning with the harnessing of electricity and working through the revolution itself, which was a “celebration of reason over passion” (at least at first). The author notes that the revolutionary year of 1789 also saw the publication of seminal works by Antoine Lavoisier, botanist Antoine de Jussieu, and mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace. Jones also examines the processes of solving problems related to explosives, famine calories and heat retention, flight, relativity, evolution, and chaos in the universe.

A passionately presented book that offers sparkling tangents for further study.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-309-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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