Like having a worldly, well-versed, and imaginative uncle tell you a good story, tendering the known while fearlessly...




In highly readable fashion, Cahill explores the Greeks’ great gifts to Western civilization, along with some less benign bequests that continue to grieve us.

It might be hard for us retroject ourselves into the Greek consciousness, suggests Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization, 1995, etc.), who proceeds to make it simple, situating many of our most knee-jerk responses to social, political, religious, and ethical life within the orbit of the Greek worldview. Americans, too, are a blend of circumstances and the refinement or debasement thereof: still a warrior culture (“males always primed for battle and sexual conquest”), still a bellicose society ready for war (“terrible but innate to civilization”), still Greek-dependent for our views of morality and justice in a fated universe ruled by passion. We too strive for the resourcefulness of Odysseus, tempered by “the ability to sympathize, to mourn, and to cherish familial relationships,” elevated for the Greeks by the influence of wonderful Sappho. We’re pursued by the Furies of guilt, take pleasure in conviviality (think keggers, for the lowest common denominator), believe in innocence by dint of hung jury, question taboos by deliberation and choice. Yes, Cahill notes, the European Enlightenment was critical, but so was Athens’ “wildly participatory” democracy, likely the fallout of an alphabet that spread literacy, demystification, and irreverence. The author parades a rogue’s gallery of true subversives, from Homer to Solon (“a sort of Athenian Franklin D. Roosevelt, an innovative though basically moderate statesman”), from pre-Socratic notions of atomic theory and mystery to Socrates’ questing and questioning to Plato’s ultimate forms. Then, late in the Grecian formula, Pericles’ resolve: “The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom a brave heart.” Like all things Greek, highly interpretable, allowing “the Greco-Roman turn of mind combined with Judeo-Christian values.”

Like having a worldly, well-versed, and imaginative uncle tell you a good story, tendering the known while fearlessly filling in the gaps with seamless, colorful graftings.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-49553-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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