A smart take from an unusual angle on a much-discussed media trend.



Financial historian Bernstein (A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, 2008, etc.) shifts gears slightly to focus on communication as an engine of change.

In the author’s hands, “media” is a broad term, encompassing the invention of writing and the development of a workable alphabet, as well as such better-known innovations as the printing press, telegraph, radio, TV and Internet. Bernstein emphasizes the control of information as the decisive factor in all struggles for power. In societies like ancient Egypt, where only a small number of people could read and write, the ability to communicate over distances enabled the creation of vast empires. Increasing literacy brought increasing democracy in Greece. Early Christian dissidents, like John Wycliffe, did not have the world-shaking impact that Martin Luther did, since Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church swiftly spread through Europe via multiple copies made possible by the printing press. Bernstein does a nice job explaining the technical issues that made Gutenberg’s process so revolutionary and later does the same for the Web. The Catholic Church may have lost control of the dissemination of information, but nation-states like England and France initially did better in muzzling newspapers, and authorities in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union harnessed radio to their totalitarian ends. Bernstein makes the fascinating point that photocopying has played a vital role in making public materials that the powers that be very much want to keep to themselves—e.g., the Pentagon Papers. With the rise of the Internet, he points out, Daniel Ellsberg could have made those documents available to millions with a few computer keystrokes. Dire warnings about the destructive impact of blogging, etc., on responsible journalism “are simply the age-old howls of communications elites facing the imminent loss of status and income.” The author touches only briefly on the role of social media in the Arab Spring, which in this context, is merely a further development in historic trends capably delineated throughout his provocative book.

A smart take from an unusual angle on a much-discussed media trend.

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2138-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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