Not an original scholar, Cahill serves as an irresistible guide: never dull, sometimes provocative, often luminous.




A prodigiously gifted popularizer of Western philosophical and religious thought spotlights exemplary Christians in the High Middle Ages.

In this fourth of a projected seven-volume series, “Hinges of History,” Cahill (Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, 2003, etc.) takes issue with the stereotypical depiction of the 12th to early-14th centuries as the superstitious Dark Ages. To be sure, he criticizes the period’s kings and most popes for spreading authoritarianism and corruption. But he reminds us that the period also saw Greek natural philosophy intertwine with Christian “incarnationalism,” which, by seeking God’s truth in human form, revived natural science and produced greater artistic realism in depicting the body. Especially important to these trends were “enveloping, energizing” misfits such as Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, the painter Giotto, the friar-scientist Roger Bacon and the mystic/nun Hildegard. Like another one of these heroes, Dante, Cahill consigns certain of his own contemporaries into a rhetorical hell, notably George W. Bush, for waging “imperial war” in Iraq, and Pope Benedict XVI, for inattention to priest sexual abuse scandals while serving as John Paul II’s chief doctrinal advisor. At worst, his underscoring of contemporary relevance lapses into breeziness (e.g., Eleanor of Aquitaine was a “smart cookie”) and the intellectual parlor game of “What Would So-and-So Do?” (Dante would have been a UN supporter). But Cahill describes Italy’s landscape and people with the same kind of brio that enriched the treatment of his own ancestral country in How the Irish Saved Civilization (1995). Writing of Padua, for example, he notes, “the city boasts some of the largest and best proportioned piazzas in Italy, as well as a twisting fantasy of domes and towers.” The author also excels at underscoring the era’s defining icons, such as images of Madonna and Child that revealed “the innovative Christian sense of grace, no longer reserved for the fortunate few.”

Not an original scholar, Cahill serves as an irresistible guide: never dull, sometimes provocative, often luminous.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-49555-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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