Slick and engaging but lightweight—a good impulse read for fans of secret histories.



From a prolific novelist and legal analyst, a bemused look at the hidden conspiracies threaded throughout American history—the companion volume to the History Channel show.

With the assistance of Ferrell (Tougher Times: A Practical Guide for Getting Through Them, 2009, etc.), Meltzer (The Fifth Assassin, 2013, etc.) begins by asserting that, although conspiracy theory can provide a shaky lens for examining our times, “someone must ask the hard questions, especially of our elected officials as well as powerful men who become members of so-called secret societies.” He thus advances an expansive acceptance regarding both controversial and obscure footnotes to various historical narratives, coupled with a keen sense of how a belief in conspiracies has become central to our political life. In discussing the role of the Freemasons in building the White House, plans for the Confederacy to rise again via hidden stashes of “rebel gold” or the possibility that D.B. Cooper was a disgruntled airline employee hiding in plain sight, Meltzer alludes to the kind of ramshackle yet potent cabals that animate pop-culture works like The Da Vinci Code or the National Treasure movies. (Yet the author often steps in to reject the wilder claims he encounters—e.g., that the good deeds of the Freemasons conceal “a secret core of leaders who control and guide the organization towards far darker goals.”) Regarding presidential assassinations, Meltzer first grabs the reader’s attention by asserting that without a DNA investigation, “we’ll never know for sure whether John Wilkes Booth died in 1865.” He regards the JFK assassination as so complex that he walks readers through 10 separate purported conspiracies within it. The prose is lively and casually amusing, peppered with asides regarding the sheer wackiness of these hidden tales (e.g., in his supposed quest for the Spear of Destiny, Hitler was “looking to steal a page from the super-villain playbook”), making these compact narratives seem breezily accessible but also less intellectually weighty.

Slick and engaging but lightweight—a good impulse read for fans of secret histories.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7611-7745-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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