For a good, single-volume introduction to world history, Read J.M. Roberts’s History of the World (1993). As history,...

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HEROES OF HISTORY

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION FROM ANCIENT TIMES TO THE DAWN OF THE MODERN AGE

The result of an unfinished manuscript discovered 20 years after the author’s death, here are 21 chapters of world history, from ancient China to Shakespeare.

Durant (1885–1981) was near 90 on publication of the 11th volume of his gargantuan history, The Story of Civilization, and he was 92 when he began a series of audiocassette lectures that were to summarize these volumes with emphasis on key figures. Most were completed and many recorded by the time of his death, and here, they make up not so much a one-volume world history as a quirky collection of essays that race through long periods, pausing at intervals for the biography of an important figure. China occupies 12 pages, half devoted to Confucius and the poet Li Po. Nine pages cover Indian history, all but two telling of Buddha and the Ghandis. Clearly more at home in western civilization, the author devotes a generous four chapters to Rome, three to ancient Greece, and the same number to the Renaissance and Reformation. All deliver good capsule histories of these periods along with the lives. Because Durant was educated early last century, his scholarship is centered on Europe and emphasizes great men—an approach that, while politically incorrect, isn’t bad history, just out of fashion. The problem with Durant is that he is not a historian but an educator. One reads good history for pleasure, but Durant for self-improvement. In clear prose, he presents the facts, but the personal opinions he hopes to transmit are those of an educator: a deploring of vice, admiration of virtue, sympathy with the oppressed, a love of art and literature.

For a good, single-volume introduction to world history, Read J.M. Roberts’s History of the World (1993). As history, Durant’s posthumous work is choppy, though it’s a good introduction to the author.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-2612-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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