Fans of Follett and cathedrals alike will enjoy his exploration of the great Parisian edifice—and will want more.

NOTRE-DAME

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE MEANING OF CATHEDRALS

A survey of the storied history of Notre-Dame Cathedral, a victim of a devastating fire in April 2019.

Follett (Edge of Eternity, 2014, etc.) knows a thing or two about medieval cathedrals, having structured his Kingsbridge series around the building of one such architectural wonder. It’s for that reason that when Notre-Dame, the jewel at the heart of Paris, caught fire, the media flocked to the author for commentary. He began informally, he relates here, tweeting to friends and followers that it’s not hard for a gigantic tower of stone to catch fire: “The rafters consist of hundreds of tons of wood, old and very dry. When that burns the roof collapses, then the falling debris destroys the vaulted ceiling, which also falls and destroys the mighty stone pillars that are holding the whole thing up.” Though badly damaged, the cathedral’s pillars held up, and French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that the damage will be repaired within five years. Follett casts some doubt on that optimistic timetable while noting, “it is always unwise to underestimate the French.” In this slender essay, he connects the events of 2019 to the building of Notre-Dame over a century, beginning in 1163. It was, he writes, the equivalent of a space launch today, benefiting whole segments of the society and economy and yielding tremendous technological advances. However, he writes, “when you add up all the pragmatic reasons, they’re not quite enough to explain why we did it.” Indeed, generations of builders would die before the cathedral was finished in 1345, yet they threw themselves into the godly work. The proceeds from this book, which touches on such things as Victor Hugo’s novelistic celebration of Notre-Dame and Charles De Gaulle’s celebrated Te Deum there on the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation, are being earmarked for the restoration, another space launch–worthy mustering of our better angels.

Fans of Follett and cathedrals alike will enjoy his exploration of the great Parisian edifice—and will want more.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984880-25-3

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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