Out of a “fractured and fractious time,” the author asserts persuasively, the medieval mind evolved into the modern. Another...



A British philosopher examines a century of profound intellectual change.

In this sweeping, lively historical survey, Grayling (Philosophy/New Coll. of the Humanities, London; The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times, 2015, etc.) argues vigorously that in the 17th century, an “age of strife and genius,” humankind experienced “the greatest ever change in…mental outlook.” Certainly the century was peopled by some major figures, including Descartes (the subject of one of Grayling’s biographies), Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Hobbes, Spinoza, Pascal, Galileo, Newton, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. Besides giving an overview of their contributions, the author reveals how they interacted in the rich “republic of letters” in which they shared ideas. Letter writing, he contends, flourished because of the availability of cheap paper and both public and private postal services. Significant among the busy correspondents was a French Minim monk, Marin Mersenne, whom the author describes as “the seventeenth century’s closest thing to an internet server”—he corresponded with about 150 leading mathematicians, astronomers, and philosophers and fostered the sharing of their ideas. It was Mersenne, Grayling notes, who put Descartes together with Pascal. Also influential in disseminating ideas was the polymath Samuel Hartlib, who boasted nearly 500 correspondents across Europe, including Galileo, and wrote dozens of letters each day. Grayling sets the robust intellectual life against the politics of the day, which saw unrest, upheaval, and almost constant war. Only for three years was there no fighting; war was “the normal condition of the time; war was the wallpaper.” Nevertheless, war pushed scientific innovation as armies sought improved weaponry. Grayling examines scientific change more broadly, contrasting religious and occult perspectives on understanding nature with the rise of the scientific method. By the end of the century, faith had been repudiated as a method of inquiry.

Out of a “fractured and fractious time,” the author asserts persuasively, the medieval mind evolved into the modern. Another thought-provoking winner from Grayling.

Pub Date: March 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7475-9942-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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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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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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