Al Gore by way of Monty Python. Readers should be aware of the F-bomb throughout, but otherwise we should all be hanging our...

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HUMANS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOW WE F*CKED IT ALL UP

It’s an article of faith and certainty among many humanistic circles that the enterprise of our species has been one of continual progress, to which London-based humorist Phillips replies, bollocks.

It’s been a mess ever since our protohominid arboreal ancestor, Lucy, fell out of a tree and died only to have her bones discovered in the 1970s and become a star of paleontology: “And yet,” writes the author, “the only reason we know about her is because, bluntly, she fucked up.” According to Phillips, humans are particularly good at this, and instances of error outweigh our better achievements. The author’s approach is spirited and goofy, and though the fault-finding can seem excessive at times, you’ve got to enjoy a book that explores weird manias (including “outbreaks of panic that malign forces are stealing or shrinking men’s penises”) and misguided actions like introducing a potentially species-hopping virus to kill off the rabbits that humans introduced to Australia in the first place. Phillips can go obscure at the drop of a hat, as when he writes of the sultanship of Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire and the brother-to-brother succession that followed his premature death: “It’s fair to say that this did not go well.” The author moves easily from subject to subject, and he does have a point: Some of our best-laid plans quickly go awry. A good example is the endless built-in struggle of democracy to balance tyrannies of the minority and keep from “sliding into autocracy,” and it’s undeniable, unless you benefit from denial, that we’ve made an incredible mess of the planet and are pretending things are OK “when instead we should probably be running around in a panic like our house was on fire, which…it sort of is.”

Al Gore by way of Monty Python. Readers should be aware of the F-bomb throughout, but otherwise we should all be hanging our heads in shame, lifting them for a frequent chuckle.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-93663-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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