Readers may feel a touch of Whiggish optimism themselves, especially when reviewing the various bills of rights that close...



Just when things were looking bad for liberty around the world, here comes a bracing burst of Whiggish optimism from philosophy professor Grayling (Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; Truth Meaning and Realism: A Personal Philosophy, 2007, etc.).

The history of the last 500 years in much of the Western world, and certainly the English-speaking one, yields at least one satisfying conclusion, Grayling writes: Ordinary people “have reached a position which at the beginning of that period was attainable by only a tiny minority of people: namely, aristocrats and senior clergy.” The attainment of general freedoms came at that minority’s expense, of course. For Western citizens to gain their rights, they had to break the hold of a single church and that of absolute monarchy, by means of a process that, Grayling observes, was mostly evolutionary if occasionally revolutionary. At those revolutionary turns come martyrs to the cause, and Grayling does good service by reminding readers of a few who are little remembered today, such as the rebel theologians Michel Servetus and Sebastian Castellio, who suggested that judgment be left to God. Elsewhere, Grayling develops what might be called a natural history of liberty: “Once people are free to think for themselves,” he suggests, “it becomes inevitable that many among them will desire a greater control over their own actions too—or at very least, to have a share in decisions that affect their lives.” Thus freedom of religion led to freedom of the press, freedom of thought, freedom of association and other freedoms contingent upon discarding any notion that kings or church elders had a divine right to rule. Tracing this growth from heretics to Luddites to John Stuart Mill and modern political philosophers, Grayling limns modern threats to freedom—not from those kings and clerics, but from civil leaders eager to battle supposed terrorism by compromising civil rights “in the name of security.”

Readers may feel a touch of Whiggish optimism themselves, especially when reviewing the various bills of rights that close the book.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1636-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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