Sociology from hell: a thorough study of the harrowing dynamics of terror, violence, and absolute power in the Nazi concentration camps. Sofsky's (Sociology/Univ. of Gottingen) impeccably researched study focuses on the structuring of space, time, and sociality in Nazi concentration, labor, and extermination camps. Sofsky begins by classifying the thousands of camp and ghetto facilities, largely by the intent of the planners. In some, inmates lived to do specific work, but in others they worked merely because they were not yet dead. Sofsky offers both detailed descriptions of the camps and powerful quotes from survivors; his portrait offers unique insights into the physical and psychological effects of, for instance, the experience of sharing tiers of wooden bunk beds with other work-exhausted skeletons, and of everyday life in these horrific, carefully zoned landscapes of ``survival, dying, and killing.'' While some of this reads like industrial psychology, Sofsky's most significant chapters illuminate with great clarity the social patterns of the camps. While the SS bureaucracy is carefully outlined, emphasis is placed on the kapos, overseers, and German guards at the camps. Without apologizing for their behavior, the author places kapos and other collaborating inmates among the victims: ``One can hardly imagine a greater power than that which transforms victims into accessories to their own execution.'' Those kapos who most often resorted to kicks and blows are seen as the most vulnerable, the ones who had to constantly prove that they were indispensable to their superiors. Rather than simply dismissing camp personnel as gleeful sadists, Sofsky explains how the social dynamics and design of the camps encouraged innate tendencies for mayhem on the part of the lower layers of the power elite. ``The more dead bodies subculture members could chalk up, the greater was their fame; the more adroit and imaginative their brutality, the higher their rankings in the group pecking order.'' A detailed, rigorous sociological analysis of the incomprehensible.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-691-04354-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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

Did you like this book?