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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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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