A well-researched, lively entry into the current debate about the role of science in a democracy.



Shachtman (American Iconoclast: The Life and Times of Eric Hoffer, 2011, etc.) makes a strong case for the importance of science and technology in the creation of the United States.

“Today,” writes the author, “the centrality to the Founding Fathers of their enlightened, scientific outlook has been obscured.” He takes a variety of familiar examples—e.g. George Washington's experience as a surveyor and plans for a complex canal system; Benjamin Franklin's scientific eminence; Thomas Jefferson's wide-ranging scientific interests; Tom Paine's less well-known design of an iron-span bridge; and John Adams' love of astronomy—to make a larger point. Acceptance of the scientific method of verification and experimentation played a central role in the Founding Fathers' confidence that they could build a new nation based on a radical vision of the rights of man. They were able to unify the population and its leaders in a shared worldview broadly defined by key figures of the Enlightenment. Shachtman reveals a direct connection between the political and scientific correspondence committees in the Colonies that laid the groundwork for coordinated action in the period leading up to the Revolution. Botanist Peter Collinson and others sponsored Americans for membership in the Royal Society. Collinson's networks promoted Benjamin Franklin's work and encouraged botanical research and astronomical observations in the Colonies. The scientists also fiercely debated the issue of small pox vaccination, and the author suggests, its adoption by George Washington avoided a potentially calamitous spread of the disease among soldiers. Shachtman also points to Jefferson's inclusion of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in his draft of the Declaration of Independence. The author traces it to a book on moral philosophy, The Religion of Nature Delineated, which was widely read in the Colonies and was authored by William Wollaston, who claimed that “the greatest happiness lay in the discovery of truth.”

A well-researched, lively entry into the current debate about the role of science in a democracy.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-137-27825-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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