A work that glows from the author’s relish for his subject.

THE THIRD HORSEMAN

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE GREAT FAMINE OF THE 14TH CENTURY

Erudite rendering of the cataclysmic climate changes wrought at the start of the 14th century.

Rosen (The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, 2010, etc.) delights in the minutiae of history, down to the most fascinating footnotes. Here, the author delivers engrossing disquisitions on climate patterns and dynastic entanglements between England and Scotland (among others), and he posits that the decisive advent of cooler, wetter weather in the early 14th century signaled the beginning of the end of the medieval good times. Indeed, the preceding four centuries of the Medieval Warm Period, caused by all kinds of controversial factors such as the North Atlantic oscillation, produced temperatures several degrees warmer than average, which translated into a host of significant ramifications. A longer growing season and the ability to grow cereals (and wine) for the first time in higher altitudes in northern Europe meant more food for more mouths, encouraging a huge population explosion and need for the bursting of borders. While the years between 800 and 1200 had embedded the medieval institutions of manorialism and feudalism, which firmly “bound the laborer to the land, and the landlord to the laborer,” the warmer era had also encouraged the marauding Vikings to take advantage of melted polar ice caps to populate Greenland and move on to America and William the Conqueror to defeat the English at Hastings. By 1300, a crisis had been reached as new currents of nationalism percolated, especially in Scotland and in Flanders. Rosen navigates through the wars for Scottish independence, culminating in Robert Bruce’s great victory at Bannockburn in 1314, at just the moment that floods began and winter weather set in. Two years of rain wrecked harvests, causing famine, lawlessness, and the cattle plague and gradually plunged the continent into a century of war.

A work that glows from the author’s relish for his subject.

Pub Date: May 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02589-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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