A useful argument against exceptionalist cant, if perhaps one unlikely to carry the day in a jingoistic age.




A historian reminds us that, much as the sitting administration might think otherwise, we’re all in this together.

If Americans knew or cared to know anything about history, the notion that “American exceptionalism” is misguided would be self-evident. Because we live in a time of historical amnesia, however, this critique by Bender (Humanities/New York Univ.; The Unfinished City, 2002, etc.) has its uses, particularly as a touchstone for the authors of historical textbooks, who could use the reminder that the U.S. is one nation among many. Bender begins on a Heisenbergian note: “the nation cannot be its own historical context,” he declares. Yet for too long, historians have been teaching American history as if the nation were indeed “a self-contained carrier of history,” somehow immune from the usual historical processes and problems. That said, he goes on to work out some far-ranging themes, observing, for instance, that the American Revolution was played out on a world stage and can be viewed as an episode in the global conflict between England and France that went on for nearly 130 years; provocatively, he notes in this connection that the Treaty of Paris was a powerful impetus for the development of the U.S. Constitution, if only because so much political power lay vested in the individual states that the new national government really didn’t have any basis for agreeing to that treaty’s terms. The winner writes history, of course, and Bender knows that full well; he remarks in passing that the American empire has been a long time in the coming and relies today on the same justifications as were advanced for it two centuries ago—and ones that tied in to other nationalisms, and other empires, elsewhere.

A useful argument against exceptionalist cant, if perhaps one unlikely to carry the day in a jingoistic age.

Pub Date: April 11, 2006

ISBN: 0-8090-9527-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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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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