Thoroughly researched, artfully written, engaging and instructive.

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A COMMONWEALTH OF THIEVES

THE IMPROBABLE BIRTH OF AUSTRALIA

A celebrated novelist (Schindler’s List, 1982, etc.) and historian (American Scoundrel, 2002, etc.) writes the early history of the English settlers—the convicts and their keepers—of his native Australia.

Keneally begins with a striking image from 1788: Eleven ships, crammed with criminals, tossing on the Pacific between Antarctica and the continent that will come to be known as Australia. The author tells the stories of those ships and passengers and offers illustrative and often illuminating commentary on subjects including the practice of transporting lawbreakers, life aboard an 18th-century ship, the flora and fauna of New South Wales and the culture of the aboriginal people who would see their way of life—thousands of years old—forever altered by disease and displacement and despair. Keneally excels in his descriptions of affairs on both sides of the world and in his mastery of both minor details and major concepts. He tells us, for example, that the aborigines could not say the letter s and that they practiced the ritual removal of an incisor from the jaws of young men coming of age; he also takes us through the political, sociological and economic forces in England that led authorities there to export their petty criminals. In many ways, this is the story of Arthur Phillip, a sturdy, judicious man who led the First Fleet and who remained in Australia through its very difficult and dangerous first years. (The Second and Third Fleets would arrive during his tenure.) Keneally ends his story with Phillip’s departure and then in an epilogue lets us know the fates of most of the principal players. Among the more notable of these were William and Mary Bryant and their two children. Keneally distributes across several chapters the story of their remarkable open-boat escape from Australia to Timor (3,254 nautical miles). Only Mary survived the final leg of the journey to England, where James Bosworth, intrigued by her tale, gave her money and hope.

Thoroughly researched, artfully written, engaging and instructive.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51459-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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...

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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