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

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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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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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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