The great debates of history aired out with satisfying vigor.

SAPIENS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND

Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) provides an immersion into the important revolutions that shaped world history: cognitive, agricultural and scientific. The book was originally published in Israel in 2011 and became a best-seller.

There is enormous gratification in reading books of this nature, an encyclopedic approach from a well-versed scholar who is concise but eloquent, both skeptical and opinionated, and open enough to entertain competing points of view. As Harari firmly believes, history hinges on stories: some stories for understanding, others prompting people to act cooperatively toward common goals. Of course, these stories—“ ‘fictions,’ ‘social constructs’ or ‘imagined realities’ ”—can be humble or evil, inclusive or self-serving, but they hold the power of belief. Harari doesn’t avoid the distant past, when humans “were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish,” but he is a skeptic and rightfully relies on specific source material to support his arguments—though he is happy to offer conjectures. Harari launches fully into his story with the cognitive revolution, when our brains were rewired, now more intelligent and creative, with language, gossip and myths to fashion the stories that, from politicians to priests to sorcerers, serve to convince people of certain ideas and beliefs. The agricultural revolution (“lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers”) comes next and firmly establishes the intersubjectivity of imagined orders: hierarchies, money, religion, gender issues, “communication network[s] linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” Throughout, the author revels in the chaos of history. He discusses the good and bad of empires and science, suggests that modern economic history comes down to a single word (“growth”), rues the loss of familial and societal safety nets, and continues to find wonder in the concept that “the keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system.”

The great debates of history aired out with satisfying vigor.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0062316097

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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