An appealing introduction, aimed at a wide audience, to events that continue to shape global affairs.

1946

THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

Newsweek associate editor Sebestyen (Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, 2009, etc.) unravels the cataclysmic changes brought about by the end of World War II.

The author, a foreign correspondent whose family fled Communist Hungary, describes 1946 as “the year that laid the foundation of the modern world.” In the aftermath of the war, “vast populations had been forced to uproot in the biggest refugee crisis the world had ever seen. Hitler had dreamed of an ethnically pure Europe. Paradoxically, Germany’s defeat ensured that by the end of 1946 his dream was, to a great extent, a reality.” Coupled with the devastation in Europe, the postwar period witnessed the birth of Israel, the dissolution of the Indian subcontinent, the rises of America and the Soviet Union, the final stages of the civil war in China, and the democratic transition in Japan. Sebestyen is a witty storyteller with a wide-ranging intellect, and his fast-paced yet expansive style will appeal even to readers with little taste for history. Though very much a big-picture narrative, the book is liberally peppered with fascinating asides and anecdotes that humanize its subjects. Emperor Hirohito’s declaration that he was a human rather than a god was instrumental in moving the Japanese populace into the modern era, but less well known is the fact that it was “drafted by a mid-level officer of the American Occupation authority.” Iconoclastic at times, the author is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom or topple sacred cows. Churchill, for instance, “was not entirely an innocent bystander, or even only a bit-part player [in the Yalta Accords]. He helped to build the Iron Curtain from Stettin to Trieste.” Ultimately, the lesson is that the vicissitudes of fate are unpredictable, and even the best-laid plans are quickly overtaken by reality.

An appealing introduction, aimed at a wide audience, to events that continue to shape global affairs.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87042-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2015

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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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