A welcome study of a “multifaceted, very eighteenth-century woman.”

CATHERINE THE GREAT

LOVE, SEX, AND POWER

Lively biography of a much misunderstood, most gifted ruler of Russia.

“That this most civilized of women should be known by most people only in relation to the infamous and entirely untrue ‘horse story’ is one of the greatest injustices of history,” grumbles London-based translator and writer Rounding. In fairness to that misperception, Sophia Frederica Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst, having climbed to the top of the “feudal anthill,” was renowned for affairs with the courtiers and retainers who surrounded her; what with all the amorous hustle and bustle, it’s easy to see how a steed could steal into the narrative. Catherine, Rounding makes clear, understood that sex was an element of power. She had come to a St. Petersburg that was still mostly a metropolis of log cabins to be married off to young Peter III, who, it emerged, was a bit of a dimwit and rather easily controlled. “Instead of being able to be a wise consort to his young wife-to-be,” Rounding writes, “Peter found it was the other way round, and he did not, on the whole, welcome this.” Catherine was, after all, well-read, fluent in several languages and given to philosophy and literature, though in later life her philosophy was of a practical and even Machiavellian nature; writing that children cried either to complain or out of stubbornness, for instance, she urged that “neither sort of tears should be allowed, all crying should be forbidden.” Moscow does not believe in tears, indeed, but Catherine had shed many as Peter kept his distance from her, pushing her into the willing arms of a succession of dashing cavaliers and counselors who helped her build St. Petersburg into a mighty city and Russia into a mighty empire; in this regard, Rounding ranks the empress as equal to or greater than her predecessor Peter the Great, who was certainly more murderous than she.

A welcome study of a “multifaceted, very eighteenth-century woman.”

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-32887-7

Page Count: 592

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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