A smart blend of science and culture, pleasing to readers of Mark Kurlansky, Philip Ball and other interpreters of how the...

A PERFECT RED

EMPIRE, ESPIONAGE, AND THE QUEST FOR THE COLOR OF DESIRE

A user-friendly treatise on the color red and one of its most pleasing forms of transmission, a once-coveted dye.

Children’s author Greenfield (Virginia Bound, 2003, as Amy Butler) comes from a family of dyers, and, as she writes, “perhaps it’s simply that color is in my blood.” Certainly she brings a practitioner’s knowledge to her study of cochineal, a dyestuff that the Spanish conquerors discovered in the great marketplaces of Mexico and soon brought to a world hungry for things red. Cochineal is a kind of tiny parasitic insect—“Six of them could fit quite comfortably along the length of a paperclip,” Greenfield writes, “provided they didn’t fall through the middle first”—that feeds on prickly pear cactus. Such plants are abundant in Mexico, where the conquistadors quickly became aware that ground-up cochineal, rich in pungent carminic acid, yielded a dye that, applied to mordanted cloth, would remain bright red for centuries. Red being the color of wealth and power, and cochineal being “the closest thing Europe had ever seen to a perfect red,” the stuff soon became a prized commodity, a source of sustenance for Mexican Indian peoples and of wealth for the traders who spread it throughout the Old World. Naturally, as Greenfield writes, other powers sought to get a piece of the action; the English tried to introduce smuggled cochineal to Australia, which succeeded only to the extent that prickly pear became a troublesome weed there for generations, while the Dutch managed to start an industry in Java and the Spanish established plantations in the Canary Islands. The world market declined, Greenfield concludes, when, along about the 19th century, democratic blue and ascetic black replaced red as the color of choice in Europe for all but monarchs and cardinals.

A smart blend of science and culture, pleasing to readers of Mark Kurlansky, Philip Ball and other interpreters of how the things of daily life, past and present, came to be. Dyers will enjoy it, too.

Pub Date: May 2, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-052275-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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