Essential reading for anyone interested in World War II.



Award-winning military historian Beevor (The Second World War, 2012, etc.) examines the Battle of the Bulge in-depth, with a detailed order of battle for all the combatants, a full array of maps, and extensive quotations from original sources, including secretly taped comments by German officers in British POW camps.

The result is a panoramic and remarkably frank treatment of the German attack, ordered by Hitler as a last-ditch attempt to reverse the momentum of battle in Western Europe. The Allied armies had made significant progress since the D-Day invasion in June, pushing the German armies out of France and most of the Netherlands and Belgium. Pulling tanks and troops off the eastern front, where the Red Army was pushing hard, the Germans put everything into an attempt to split the Allies and force the British out of the war. The attack, launched in December, caught the Allies off guard—caused partly by squabbles that distracted the Allied generals. British commanding general Sir Bernard Montgomery was clearly jealous of the American commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and kept pushing to be given more independence. American generals George Patton and Omar Bradley, among others, detested Montgomery and blamed him for not securing the port of Antwerp. Meanwhile, one of the worst winters on record made for nearly impossible fighting conditions, punishing soldiers and ruining their equipment until the Allies finally prevailed. Beevor skewers the pretensions and weaknesses of generals and details atrocities and mistreatment of both civilians and surrendering enemies by both sides. The author takes for granted more knowledge of the battle, the terrain, and the German language than general readers may possess, and he occasionally repeats information attentive readers will recall from previous mentions. But these are small quibbles. On the whole, this is a treasure of memorable portraits, striking details, fascinating revelations, and broad insights—likely to be the definitive account of the battle for years to come.

Essential reading for anyone interested in World War II.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-02531-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

Bikont’s fearless research—she even confronted the brothers known to have led the Jedwabne murders—makes this a fantastic...



Polish journalist Bikont (editor: And I Still See Their Faces: Images of Polish Jews, 1996) delivers a daring exposure of the crimes of her countrymen in the first week of July 1941.

At the time, the deaths of the Jews of Jedwabne and those of Radzilów and Wasosz were glossed over, until a book commemorating them appeared just before the 60th anniversary. Jan Tomasz Gross based her book Neighbors (2001) partly on the Jedwabne Book of Memory, edited by rabbis Julius and Jacob Baker. It was the first time the testimony of eyewitness Szmul Wasersztejn was published, a good first step for Bikont to begin her search for witnesses. Sixty years after hundreds of Jews were herded into a barn that was then burned to the ground, the author found a host of disturbing reactions from the local residents. There are blatant denials that any Poles took part and assurances that it was the Germans who forced locals to participate. Many told Bikont that since it occurred so many years ago, she should just leave it alone. Her persistence in chasing down those who might tell her the facts took her all over Poland and to Israel, the United States, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Her most shocking discovery was the still-virulent anti-Semitism in the area. For years, the Catholic Church had preached against the Jews, so when neighbors were exiled to Siberia during the Russian occupation of 1939-1941, the Jews were the best scapegoats, and it was a good excuse for the beginnings of the pogroms. The elements of competitive suffering that the author uncovered in her interviewees appear to be just more excuses.

Bikont’s fearless research—she even confronted the brothers known to have led the Jedwabne murders—makes this a fantastic book. It was first published in Poland in 2004, and the European Book Prize it won in 2011 (for the French version) should be only the first of many awards for this significant work.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17879-6

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

In this superbly researched book, acclaimed LGBT scholar Faderman (My Mother’s Wars, 2013, etc.) examines the roots of the...



The history of the struggle for gay rights in the United States.

In this superbly researched book, acclaimed LGBT scholar Faderman (My Mother’s Wars, 2013, etc.) examines the roots of the sociopolitical movement that, for the last 60 years, has worked to achieve justice for LGBT people. The author begins in the 1950s, when “the government, the law, the church, [and] the psychiatric profession all colluded to tell homosexuals they were guilty just by being who they were.” Yet a brave few individuals—e.g., Harry Hay, Phyllis Lyon, and Del Martin—took action by creating organizations intended to offer safe alternatives to gay and lesbian bars. In these groups, homosexuals could offer each other support and seek the respect they desired from mainstream heterosexual society. As the organizations grew, they assimilated ideas from such political catalysts as the burgeoning civil rights movement. By 1969, the Stonewall riots revealed a far more radicalized community, contingents of which created political groups that actively agitated for civil rights rather than simple respect. Mainstream society responded with “family values” movements led by such icons as Anita Bryant. Her anti-gay zeal actually worked to unite the LGBT community and help its members push for political change at the local and then, into the 1980s and beyond, national levels. Faderman documents the tragedy of AIDS and how that epidemic also brought together gays and lesbians and created a still greater sense of solidarity among homosexuals, who, by the 1990s, had begun to press for workplace protections as well as recognition of gay and lesbian families. The author concludes with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, specifically its provision that marriage be defined in heterosexual terms only. Throughout this engaging and extremely well-documented book, Faderman clearly shows that for the LGBT community, equality is not a completed goal. Yet the ideal of fully integrated citizenship is closer to becoming reality than ever before.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9411-6

Page Count: 760

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

A superb chronicle, long—but no longer than needed—and detailed, that sheds light on how the war on terror is being waged...



A stirring history of that bad time, 45-odd years ago, when we didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing, though we knew it was loud.

The 1970s, writes Vanity Fair special correspondent Burrough (The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, 2009, etc.), saw something unknown since the American Revolution: a group of radical leftists forming “an underground resistance movement” that, as his subtitle notes, is all but forgotten today. The statistics are daunting and astonishing: In 1971 and 1972, the FBI recorded more than 2,500 bombings, only 1 percent of which led to a fatality. In contrast to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168 people, the “single deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people.” The FBI, of course, took this very seriously. As Burrough records, it embarked on a campaign of infiltration and interdiction that soon overstepped its bounds, legally speaking. The author takes a deep look into this history on both sides, interviewing veterans of the underground on one hand and of the FBI on the other. He traces the bombing campaign back to the man he deems a “kind of Patient Zero for the underground groups of the 1970s,” who began seeding Manhattan with bombs in the year of Woodstock and provided a blueprint for radicals right and left ever since. It is clear that the FBI has Burrough’s sympathy; after all, many of those who went underground got off lightly, while overly zealous federal agents (the man who would later be unmasked as Watergate’s Deep Throat among them) were prosecuted. The author’s history is thoroughgoing and fascinating, though with a couple of curious notes—e.g., the likening of the Weathermen et al. to the Nazi Werewolf guerrillas “who briefly attempted to resist Allied forces after the end of World War II.”

A superb chronicle, long—but no longer than needed—and detailed, that sheds light on how the war on terror is being waged today.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59420-429-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

A historical tour de force—a fascinating panorama of Great Britain during the summer of Waterloo.



As the armies gathered in June 1815, few doubted that a world-shaking event was in the works. Britons poured into Belgium to witness the excitement; those remaining behind agonized, debated, and quarreled; others went about their daily lives.

Most important, they wrote letters, kept journals, and tangled with the law. British historian Crane (Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves, 2013) mines this bonanza of material for a delightful chronicle of how Britons, famous and obscure, in and out of the Duke of Wellington’s army, experienced the iconic battle. Crane astutely reminds us that not everyone yearned for a British victory. Britons were free, but they were governed by an aristocratic oligarchy mired in corruption and supported by a minuscule electorate. Reformers, energized by the French Revolution but devastated by 20 years of war and vicious attacks on their patriotism, made their voices heard. Crane creates a vivid portrait of perhaps the most notorious Napoleon advocate, the driven, misanthropic writer William Hazlitt, but he was only one of a coterie of famous names (Lamb, Byron, Hunt, Godwin) who spoke for a voluble and not insignificant number of their countrymen. Readers will marvel at the richly expressed feelings of servants, soldiers, prisoners, wives, and lovers, rich and poor, not excepting many who, preoccupied with their own problems, ignored the great battle. “Beyond London,” writes the author, “spreading out in concentric rings across the blackness of the country and the farms and villages and towns of Britain, thirteen million souls lived out their own separate lives in this strange phoney pause in the nation’s life….The day of Waterloo had begun.”

A historical tour de force—a fascinating panorama of Great Britain during the summer of Waterloo.

Pub Date: April 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-59492-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent...



In this biography of Robert Bunch, the British consul in Charleston, South Carolina, at the beginning of the Civil War, Daily Beast foreign editor Dickey (Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—The NYPD, 2010, etc.) illustrates how an outside observer can understand more about a situation than the parties involved.

The years leading up to the war were vitally important for the British to understand the feelings and actions of that hotbed of secession and slavery. The British and Americans banned the slave trade in 1807, but the Americans added a proviso of a 20-year delay. Bunch’s great talent was in convincing Charlestonians to see him as being on a friendly mission. They revealed their plots, plans, and hopes to him, which he used to compose invaluable dispatches to Britain’s virulently anti-slavery government. The author thoroughly understands the point of view of the South regarding the slave trade. Cotton was king, and England was its largest customer. While the production had grown 3,000 percent, the slave population increased only by 150 percent. As new states entered the Union, hopefully as slave states, even more workers would be needed for the labor-intensive industry. Virginia and Maryland, states where cotton had depleted the soil, now bred and sold slaves to the new markets, and some argued that the price of long-standing slaves had grown so much that new “stock” would devalue them. Dickey’s comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period. Bunch’s work in Charleston helped guide Britain’s decisions regarding the cotton-export ban, the blockade, and whether to recognize the Confederacy.

A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs.

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-88727-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

This is Ellis’ ninth consecutive history of the Revolutionary War era and yet another winner.

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A brilliant account of six years during which four Founding Fathers, “in disregard of public opinion, carried the American story in a new direction.”

In a virtuosic introduction, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Ellis (Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, 2013, etc.) maintains that Abraham Lincoln was wrong. In 1776—four score and seven years before 1863—our forefathers did not bring forth a new nation. American revolutionaries hated distant governments, taxes, armies and inconvenient laws. Their Colonial governments seemed fine. Ellis reminds us that the 1776 resolution declaring independence described 13 “free and independent states.” Adopting the Constitution in 1789 created the United States, but no mobs rampaged in its favor. In fact, writes the author, the “vast majority of citizens had no interest in American nationhood, indeed regarded the very idea of national government as irrelevant to their love lives.” Ellis delivers a convincing argument that it was a massive political transformation led by men with impeccable revolutionary credentials. The indispensable man was George Washington, whose miserable eight years begging support for the Revolutionary army convinced him that America needed a central government. Its intellectual mastermind, James Madison, not only marshaled historical arguments, but performed political legerdemain in setting the Constitutional Convention agenda, orchestrating the debates and promoting ratification. Less tactful but equally brilliant, Alexander Hamilton’s vision of American hegemony would provoke stubborn opposition, but during the 1780s, the people that mattered had no objection. An undeservedly neglected Founding Father (Thomas Jefferson became our first secretary of state only after he declined), John Jay was close to the others and a vigorous advocate of reform.

This is Ellis’ ninth consecutive history of the Revolutionary War era and yet another winner.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35340-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

In this delightfully readable book, the author expertly shows how those affected by the Great War linked together, nourished...



In a fascinating work about a remarkable year, former NBC News correspondent Burns (Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties, 2010, etc.) shows us what put the roar in the Roaring ’20s.

The end of World War I brought reactions in the form of anarchy, the birth of jazz, the first Ponzi scheme, Prohibition, women’s suffrage and the birth of “mass media.” Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, fought the Red Scare against the likes of Sacco and Vanzetti and the most notorious anarchist, Luigi Galleani, who swore by the “propaganda of the deed.” Their work would lose effectiveness as their agents were diverted to enforce Prohibition, which caused its own problems. The Anti-Saloon League was the first of the special interest groups, and Prohibition cost organized crime its organization, as it became a growth industry to provide unregulated, and often lethal, liquor to the masses. The election of Warren Harding in 1920 was the first in which women voted and the first time returns were broadcast on radio. It also brought the “Ohio Gang” into Washington, a group who imported Canadian liquor by the trainload, sold Teapot Dome and ran cons that Ponzi, who made millions in a few short months, would have loved. There was also extensive birth and growth. The migration of blacks to the North looking for work brought the Ku Klux Klan in their wake, but they also brought jazz and other cultural elements. Jazz brought men like Louis Armstrong to Chicago and then New York and Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance was spurred not only by jazz, but also by literature—by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes and countless others. Burns follows it all with verve.

In this delightfully readable book, the author expertly shows how those affected by the Great War linked together, nourished each other and really did change the world.

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60598-772-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

Among historians, Jefferson’s star has been falling for 50 years. Fleming’s frank hostility puts him at the far end of the...



The camaraderie among America’s Founding Fathers did not survive independence in 1783. Disagreement over the role of government grew into virulent antagonism, and that acrimony persists today. Prolific historian Fleming (A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, 2013, etc.) delivers a vivid, opinionated history of this conflict.

The author clearly favors George Washington’s famous practicality over Thomas Jefferson’s fiery revolutionary fervor. Fleming begins with the Constitutional Convention, chaired by Washington, whose eight years of failure to persuade the Continental Congress to support his Revolutionary army convinced him that the United States needed a strong central government. In France as America’s ambassador, Jefferson took no part in the debates and was lukewarm to the outcome. Described by Fleming as “that most troublesome of politicians—an ideologue,” Jefferson believed that humans in their natural state—i.e., virtuous American farmers—did not require government. This utopian faith included passionate support of the French Revolution, during which he defended the Terror and mass executions. Fleming portrays Jefferson as a disloyal secretary of state to President Washington and an equally disloyal vice president to John Adams, working behind the scenes to defeat their policies and lying to their faces. As president, he downsized the government, eliminating all internal taxes and crippling the Army and Navy, which were unable to resist the increasing British depredations that led to the War of 1812.

Among historians, Jefferson’s star has been falling for 50 years. Fleming’s frank hostility puts him at the far end of the scale, but he makes a fascinating case that Jefferson’s charisma—which peaked early with the Declaration of Independence—was accompanied by fanciful political beliefs that continue to exert a malign influence on the office of the presidency.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-306-82127-1

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2015

Any student of the Renaissance should read this excellent work showing Spain’s enormous impact on the arts and, with her...



A bright, wide-ranging chronicle of the golden age of the Spanish empire.

Though Goodwin (Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies/Univ. Coll. London; Crossing the Continent 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South, 2008) denies that he has written a magisterial work filled with scholarly detail but rather a book for the “idle reader,” it is a well-researched, intelligent, and easily understood history of the first global empire on Earth. The author divides the work into two sections: “Gold” deals with the historical, economic, and political history, and “Glitter” explores literary and artistic works. At the beginning of the empire, King Charles V realized that the great wealth of silver and gold arriving from America would require a bureaucracy to ensure the availability of the banks, postal service, food, and roads essential for the movement of troops and supplies. He had to be well-organized and wealthy to wage wars and contain an empire that included the Netherlands, Naples, the Holy Roman Empire, and, eventually, Portugal. Charles was also an avid collector of Renaissance art and appointed the Venetian artist Titian as court painter. His son, Philip II, inherited a well-oiled machine that enabled him to expand the vast art collection his father had begun. He laid the path for Spain’s great artists Velázquez, Murillo, and El Greco, who were joined by great writers and thinkers like Cervantes, Góngora, and Quevedo. Goodwin not only shows the greatness of Spain’s empire, but also explains the psyche of Spaniards during the time. They preferred poverty over labor and honor over trade, and they were obsessed with purity of blood. The latter aspect was one of the prime drivers of the Inquisition, formed to rid Spain of lapsed Christians who had converted from Judaism during the diaspora of 1492.

Any student of the Renaissance should read this excellent work showing Spain’s enormous impact on the arts and, with her vast American empire, the world.

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62040-360-0

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Not just another tale of concentration camp terrors, Helm delivers a gripping story of the women who outlasted them and had...



Just when you thought you knew all about the Holocaust camps, Helm (A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, 2006) chronicles the history of this much-ignored site for women.

It was little different from other camps, its primary purpose removing those who would sully the German gene pool and using them as slave labor. In the Nazis’ obsessive record-keeping, each inmate had a file and was identified by a colored patch dividing them into political prisoners, asocials (lesbians, prostitutes), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews. Prussian efficiency required paperwork and approvals for every action or move. Even punitive beatings (as opposed to the everyday cruelties) required the signature of Heinrich Himmler himself. However, this is not really the story of the deaths by gas, firing squad, lethal injection, poison and neglect (starvation); the author smartly focuses on the incredible ways that a wide variety of women fought to survive. Those who were sent to factories, like Siemens, purposely sabotaged the arms they worked on. The imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses and Red Army medics succeeded in refusing to work on armaments. Poles who had been used in medical experiments found a way to smuggle their stories out written in their own urine. Not all had the strength to withstand the barbaric conditions, and 40,000 to 50,000 of the 123,000 prisoners died. Only a Swedish mission miraculously saved 17,000 lives toward the end of the war. This camp isn’t well-known for a number of reasons: The staff destroyed all records, it was in the Russian zone, victims wouldn’t discuss it, Russian prisoners were actually punished for being caught, the camp was on a smaller scale, and the contention was that “they were only women.”

Not just another tale of concentration camp terrors, Helm delivers a gripping story of the women who outlasted them and had the strength to share with the author and us 60 years later.

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-52059-1

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

An authoritative, sweeping, important history that shows how terrorism “is neither irrational nor desperate but instead...



How Jewish terrorists defeated British rule.

Terrorism scholar Hoffman (Security Studies/Georgetown Univ.; Inside Terrorism, 2006, etc.) draws on British, Israeli and American archives, uncovering much new material, in this history of Zionists’ determination to oust the British from Palestine. Terrorism, carried out by two rival groups—Irgun and the more extreme Lehi—resulted, after 30 years of violence, in British withdrawal and the creation of Israel. Britain’s presence had been authorized by the Mandate of Palestine, a consequence of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. By 1929, despite improvements to infrastructure and standard of living, both Arabs and Jews were seething with resentment. “The situation was…like the Wild West,” one British commander remarked. And it worsened: In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis pressed for permission to immigrate, incensed over Britain’s quota; Arabs, threatened by an increase in population, formed marauding guerrilla bands. With British soldiers fighting the war, the police force was inadequate and demoralized. In 1938 alone, 5,708 terrorist incidents occurred. Of more than 90 protagonists in this teeming drama, Menachem Begin emerges as one of the most violent, the mastermind behind the horrific bombing of the King David Hotel in 1939. “We fight, therefore we are!” he exclaimed. British leaders, some openly anti-Semitic, vacillated as terrorists fulfilled their mission to make Palestine ungovernable. Never, a statesman said ruefully, would the region be a place “in which Jew and Arab would settle down together….” Winston Churchill, with considerable understatement, admitted that Britain’s Mandatory administration had been “a thankless, painful, costly, laborious, inconvenient task.” Hoffman concludes that the “rise of Israel was the product of many powerful forces in addition to terrorism.” But the Irgun’s success, he chillingly notes, laid the groundwork for today’s globalized terrorism.

An authoritative, sweeping, important history that shows how terrorism “is neither irrational nor desperate but instead entirely rational and often carefully calculated and choreographed.”

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0307594716

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

A riveting portrait of what Kurt Weill called the “total breakdown of all human dignity,” revealed through the bric-a-brac...



From the absurd to the sublime, and everywhere heartbreaking: a collage of voices from the tail end of the world’s conflagration.

In 2005, German novelist Kempowski (1929-2007) published this cross section of voices, ordinary and otherwise, commenting on the end of World War II in German as part of a series of compositions largely exploring German guilt for the war. Over 20 years, he collected an astonishing array of autobiographies, letters, diaries and other documents to create a raw, tremendously moving set of reactions to the momentous events of April through May 1945: the lugubrious birthday celebrations of Adolf Hitler on April 20, the Allied liberation, VE-Day, and the very different takes by the international participants on the final signing of Germany’s capitulation at Karlshorst, Berlin, on May 8. In the preface, Kempowski notes that he composed this wealth of voices like an imagined Tower of Babel, revealing a similarly teetering longing by frail and inadequate humans for some kind of recognition of or consolation for their experience and suffering. Among dozens of other situations, the author examines German soldiers lying wounded in American hospitals; Joseph Goebbels, the “diabolical seducer,” continuing his vituperative radio address, declaring that “Chaos will be tamed!”; the scores of Berliners vulnerable to the retribution of marauding Russians; the prisoners in concentration camps, hanging by the barest thread; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, persistent in his maddeningly correct accounts until the very last signing ceremony; and Hitler’s own final maniacal insistence that the blame of the war lay squarely with the Jews. Kempowki juxtaposes the voices of the poignantly unknown with the famous—from Thomas Mann eagerly following the movements of the Allied armies into Germany from his home in Los Angeles to Edmund Wilson in London wondering what the “roast duck” on the menu really was (probably crow).

A riveting portrait of what Kurt Weill called the “total breakdown of all human dignity,” revealed through the bric-a-brac of war-shattered lives.

Pub Date: April 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24815-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner



A sweeping study of the fastest growing group in the United States that underscores the shameful racist regard white Americans have long held for Asian immigrants.

A historian of immigration whose ancestors hailed from China, Lee (History/Univ. of Minnesota) delineates the specific history of Asians in America—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hmong, and others—while also lending a general sense of what immigrants have endured: discrimination in work, wages, education, and housing, and even incarceration during World War II. The author tells a thorough tale, beginning with the first “chinos” (Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese) who migrated from 16th-century Manila (trade between Spain and Asia first ran through the Philippines) to Acapulco and even proto-California. Colonial trade routes brought goods like tea, porcelain, and fabrics from Asia, and immigrants followed to Mexico and Peru and North America, especially as the need for labor grew. Readers might be surprised to learn of the huge influx of South Asian “coolies,” or indentured laborers bound under contract, to the Americas and the West Indies during the 19th century, feeding another form of slavery and fueling discrimination. Due to adverse economic conditions in many Chinese provinces in the mid-1800s, the Chinese migrated in huge numbers; one great attraction was “Gold Mountain” (California), which drew Lee’s great-great-great-grandfather. Official U.S. immigration discrimination kicked in by 1875, codified in certain exclusion and immigration acts (1882, 1924) and restricting citizenship. Of course, the irony was that despite the enormous contributions of Asians in building American industry and wealth, they were never considered fully American. But Asians in exile were able to work for revolution and change in their own countries (China, India) while pushing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge discrimination in housing, work, and other venues. For readers interested in even further study, the author provides a highly useful bibliographic essay.

A powerful, timely story told with method and dignity.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3940-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

An important book that warrants a place at the forefront of Prohibition histories. General readers will love it, and...



The surprising ways in which a failed social experiment helped shape modern America.

In this splendid social and political history, McGirr (History/Harvard Univ.; Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, 2001, etc.) offers a vivid account of Prohibition (1920-1933) and its “significant but largely unacknowledged” long-term effects on the United States. Writing with authority and admirable economy, the author traces the decadelong effort to discipline the leisure of urban immigrants, led by Protestant clergyman driven by “a powerful animosity toward working-class drinking in the saloon.” With support from temperance groups and businessmen (“Until booze is banished we can never have really efficient workmen,” said one manufacturer), the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages not only gave rise to the familiar Prohibition story of bootlegging, violence, and speak-easies but also had diverse, wide-ranging consequences that resonate to this day. Drawing on archival research, McGirr shows most importantly how the war on alcohol greatly expanded the role of the federal government, especially with regard to policing and surveillance. Prohibition awakened the nation’s religious right, spurred the electoral realignment that resulted in the New Deal, and served as a “cultural accelerant” that began with the emergence of urban nightlife and drinking by women and youths and spread “ideals of self-fulfillment, pleasure, and liberation” across the country. These and other perceptive insights are contained in a bright, taut narrative that covers everything from the growing popularity of jazz to the selective enforcement of Prohibition in places from Chicago to Virginia to the tenor of everyday American life in these years. McGirr’s discussions of the class aspects of the “dry” crusade will leave many feeling that booze—and the supposed criminality of the saloon—was the least of the problems.

An important book that warrants a place at the forefront of Prohibition histories. General readers will love it, and scholars will find much to ponder.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-06695-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

There are not enough superlatives to describe the wealth of information in this book and the bright, clear way in which it...



Rael (History/Bowdoin Coll.; Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North, 2002, etc.) examines the long, slow death of slavery in the United States, masterfully showing how each event is connected and letting us in on secrets that textbooks never mentioned.

As he tracks the history of abolition from the founding until the end of the Civil War, the author refutes long-held theories with logical, well-researched ones. For example, Georgia and the Carolinas never threatened to reject the Constitution. It would have been suicide, since the Spanish to their south and the Creek Indians to the west threatened them. It is often said that slavery would have died a natural death if left alone. Not at all true, writes Rael; the invention of the cotton gin expanded the cotton industry, requiring even more slaves and more land. What fueled the run-up to the Civil War was a fight to establish slavery in the expanding U.S. The Missouri Compromise was ruled unconstitutional by the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which not only required the slave’s return, but also declared that the federal government had no right to outlaw slavery in any territory. The author rightly states that the turmoil surrounding the three-fifths compromise became the true basis of the conflict. It empowered the slave states in representation, in judicial appointments, and in the Electoral College, giving them the power to block legislation. Rael enlightens us on the wide differences in slavery throughout the New World and its ending through the Caribbean and Latin America, and he effectively shows the difficulties of emancipation, reconstruction, and the pervading white supremacy of the North.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the wealth of information in this book and the bright, clear way in which it is taught. Just buy it.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8203-4839-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

A spirited, comprehensive and highly readable account of the tremendous wherewithal required for this extraordinary effort.

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A new treatment of the daring Doolittle raids over Tokyo that fills in many of the gaps in the true story.

In his glowing assessment of the bravery and innovation of the Doolittle raiders, historian Scott (The War Below: The Story of Three Submarines That Battled Japan, 2013, etc.) does not neglect to explore the ultimate horrendous cost of the mission in human lives. After the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt and his military commanders were desperate for a retaliatory measure that would help buoy national morale. Figuring out how to wage a bombing mission over Tokyo took the best heads of the Navy and Air Force, specifically Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold’s staff troubleshooter, the legendary racing pilot Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. Immediately taking up the mission and demanding that he also lead it, Doolittle chose the “aerial workhorse” B-25 as the sole craft whose wingspan could clear the superstructure of an aircraft carrier. The problem was the fuel load required to fly from a Pacific carrier to Tokyo then onward to China—landing at approved airfields not in the control of the Japanese—all while keeping absolute secrecy. Spotted by the Japanese well over 800 miles from Tokyo (they were supposed to get 200 miles closer), the all-volunteer crews of the 16 bombers aboard the carrier knew when they took off on April 18, 1942, that they had little chance of reaching the Chinese coast. Of the 80 men, 61 survived the war; four died in crash landings, and four fell into the brutal hands of the Japanese. The damage to Tokyo spurred the Japanese to focus next on Midway, while the Japanese retaliatory slaughter against the Chinese as a result of the raids totaled some 250,000 deaths, a fact that Scott does not fail to note.

A spirited, comprehensive and highly readable account of the tremendous wherewithal required for this extraordinary effort.

Pub Date: April 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-08962-2

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

A valiant, moving work of research certain to provoke vigorous discussion.



Intense, deeply detailed, and compassionate account of the atomic bomb’s effects on the people and city of Nagasaki, then and now.

The generation of hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivors, is sadly passing away, as journalist and artistic director Southard (Essential Theatre, Tempe, Arizona) acknowledges in her tracking of the experiences of five who were teenagers in the once-thriving port city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. As the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb over Nagasaki approaches, the author aims to enlighten her American audience, whose largely unequivocal stance about the rightness of forcing Japan to capitulate and the ignorance regarding radiation exposure the U.S. government took great pains to promote have kept readers unaware, she believes, of the magnitude of this nuclear annihilation—“a scale that defies imagination.” These five teenagers, and many like them, had all been enlisted in the war effort, as had their families in Nagasaki, one of Japan’s first Westernized cities, containing the largest Christian population. One of the teens delivered mail, one was a streetcar operator, and several worked in the Mitsubishi factories that lined the river. When the bomb obliterated the Urakami Valley, where many of them lived, all lost family members and were horribly injured and scarred for life. Southard’s descriptions stick to the eyewitness accounts of these and other survivors, and they are tremendously moving, nearly unbearable to read, and accompanied by gruesome photos. She alternates first-person accounts—e.g., reports by the Japanese doctors who first treated the burns and identified the subsequent radiation “sickness”—with an outline of the political developments at the war’s conclusion. The author emphasizes the postwar censorship imposed by the U.S. occupying force in Japan regarding the discussion of the bombing or radiation effects (see George Weller's First into Nagasaki), as well as the bravery of the hibakusha, who were determined to speak the truth.

A valiant, moving work of research certain to provoke vigorous discussion.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-02562-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

Washington, D.C., regulars may know some of this information, and foreign nations certainly do, but all engaged American...



Former Salon founding editor-in-chief Talbot (Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love, 2012, etc.) shares his extensive knowledge and intense investigations of American politics with a frightening biography of power, manipulation, and outright treason.

The story of Allen Dulles (1893-1969), his brother John Foster, and the power elite that ran Washington, D.C., following World War II is the stuff of spy fiction, but it reaches even further beyond to an underworld of unaccountable authority. Dulles’ career began in the New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he built a powerful client list. During wartime in Switzerland, he worked to protect his clients’ corporations and build his own organization. In direct opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s policy, he sought a separate peace with the Germans to use them to fight communism. Talbot delivers a variety of thrilling stories about Dulles that boggle the mind, from skimming funds from the Marshall Plan to using Richard Nixon as his mouthpiece in Congress. It is really about the power elite, the corporate executives, government leaders, and top military officials who controlled the world. They protected corporate interests in Iran, Guatemala, and elsewhere, and they fomented revolutions, experimented in mind control, and assassinated those who got in their way. With John Foster as secretary of state, this “fraternity of the successful” enforced a Pax Americana by terror and intimidation, always invoking national security and often blatantly disobeying policy guidelines. The author asserts that the Bay of Pigs was an intentional failure, meant to force John F. Kennedy to invade Cuba and retrieve corporate properties. Even out of office, Dulles’ conspiracies continued. Talbot also delves into CIA involvement in Kennedy’s assassination. Ultimately, the blatant manipulative activities of the Dulles brothers will shock most readers.

Washington, D.C., regulars may know some of this information, and foreign nations certainly do, but all engaged American citizens should read this book and have their eyes opened.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-227616-2

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

A comprehensive, encyclopedic work that should be included in the collections of libraries, schools and other institutions.



A harrowing, thorough study of the Nazi camps that gathers a staggering amount of useful and necessary information on the collective catastrophe.

In a tightly organized, systematic narrative, Wachsmann (Modern European History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany, 2004, etc.) presents an “integrated” treatment of the Konzentrationslager of the title that moves beyond any attempt to endow the camps with universal meaning. He looks at forces both inside and outside the camps, from Hitler’s ascension in early 1933 to the liberation by the Allies in the spring of 1945. The author tries to move away from looking at the camps as occupying “some metaphysical realm” and stick to primary sources that reveal the voices of the prisoners and the perpetrators. To deal with the mass arrest of Hitler’s enemies in the spring and summer of 1933, the earliest camps morphed from existing workhouses and state prisons located all over Germany (Wachsmann provides maps of the camps as they evolved over the years), housing mostly political prisoners and communists, with Jews constituting only a small percentage, to a template fixed at Dachau, which SS leader and Munich police president Heinrich Himmler established as the “first concentration camp.” Schooled in brutal, bloodthirsty methods, the guards were encouraged to treat the prisoners as animals, running the camps in relentless military fashion, employing routine terror, forced labor and euphemisms regarding the murders of inmates as “suicides” and “shot trying to escape” for PR purposes. The camp system grew with the purge of SA leader Ernst Röhm and other “renegades” in July 1934 and took off with the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, after which Jews numbered predominately. As the war progressed, so did the methods of mass extermination, from mass shootings to the Auschwitz gas chamber: first weak prisoners, then Soviet POWs, then Jews.

A comprehensive, encyclopedic work that should be included in the collections of libraries, schools and other institutions.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0374118259

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

Wheelan has combed entire libraries to make this thoroughly readable, lucid survey. Well-practiced buffs will welcome the...



First-rate study of the often overlooked closing months of the Civil War, which, though the impending end was visible, saw some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict.

So desperate was Confederate resistance, writes former Associated Press editor Wheelan (Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate, 2014, etc.), that in the late winter of 1865, it did the unthinkable: it enlisted African-Americans into the army, conferring “the rights of a freedman” on anyone who signed up. Hearing the news, Abraham Lincoln rightly remarked that the South was done, “and we can now see the bottom.” It helped the Union cause that the generals under Ulysses Grant were committed to a program of total war. As Wheelan notes, William Tecumseh Sherman had earlier “held the conventional view that war was between armies and did not involve civilians,” but a spell in Tennessee convinced him otherwise—and even in surrender, many Southerners vowed to continue hating their Northern foes. “Hatred was practically all that remained for many former Confederates,” Wheelan sagely writes, for the South lay in utter ruin. The author capably traces the closing military campaign in Virginia, with Robert E. Lee’s fast-dwindling army encircled by a vastly superior Union force, and he examines the lesser-known theaters that remained, including pockets of resistance in the Deep South and Texas. At the same time, he writes critically, by way of foreshadowing, of the failure of Reconstruction, which would follow the North’s perhaps-too-lenient policies of repatriation of former Confederate leaders, some of whom quickly returned to Congress. Particularly interesting are Wheelan’s occasional forays into speculation: what might have happened had Lee fought a strictly defensive war? Is there any way the South might have prevailed?

Wheelan has combed entire libraries to make this thoroughly readable, lucid survey. Well-practiced buffs will welcome the book, but novices can approach it without much background knowledge, too.

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-306-82360-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

A complex history rendered with great color and sympathy.

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An accomplished popular historian unpacks the last full year of World War II and the excruciatingly difficult decisions facing Franklin Roosevelt.

Allied military victories during 1944 assured the eventual surrender of Nazi Germany, accounting for what Winston Churchill called “the greatest outburst of joy in the history of mankind.” And yet Winik (The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800, 2007, etc.) asks whether, by focusing so wholly on winning the war, Roosevelt missed “his own Emancipation Proclamation moment,” the chance to make the war about something bigger, specifically “the vast humanitarian tragedy occurring in Nazi-controlled Europe.” FDR’s failure to address unequivocally the Holocaust, the millions of deaths that left “a gaping, tormenting hole echoing in history,” has frustrated historians for decades. More in sorrow than in anger, Winik explains this apparent moral lapse by the world’s foremost humanitarian. Preoccupied with his 1944 re-election and mollifying various political constituencies, supervising the invasion of the European continent, holding together a contentious alliance, and intent on destroying Hitler, Roosevelt was also in extremely precarious health. Moreover, a sluggish, indifferent government bureaucracy, likely tinged with anti-Semitism—here, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and the War Department’s John J. McCloy take a beating—either ignored or thwarted any plan to relieve or rescue refugees or liberate prisoners in the death camps. Still, as Winik vividly demonstrates in a number of set pieces featuring escapees, underground leaders, and government advocates for relief, surely by 1944 FDR knew: about the camps, the atrocities, the desperate refugees, and, as one memo sternly warned, “the acquiescence of this government in the murder of Jews.” Still, beyond the belated establishment of the War Refugee Board, the president faltered. The author’s fair assessment of the evidence, detailed scene-setting, deft storytelling, and sure-handed grasp of this many-stranded narrative will inspire any reader to rethink this issue. Do we ask too much of Roosevelt or too little?

A complex history rendered with great color and sympathy.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4391-1408-7

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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