Fascinating for generals, more mundane for historians.



Another colorful recounting of a historic clash of armies, from the author of The Battle: A New History of Waterloo (2005).

This time the contest in question is the battle of Adrianople on Aug. 9, 378, when Roman forces took the field against Goth tribes united under their leader Fritigern. Barbero (Medieval Studies/Univ. of Piemonte Orientale) challenges conventional wisdom, arguing that the fourth-century Roman Empire was not “an organism in terminal decay.” Matters were fairly stable in a.d. 376, when vast hordes of Goths were set in motion toward Rome’s northern border by the arrival from Asia of the ferocious Huns. The Romans, in dire need of workers in the fields and fresh recruits for the army, allowed the barbarians to cross into the empire—and lived to rue the day. Once it became apparent that the food supply was insufficient for all of them, the Goths began a series of raids. With the Roman military already spread thin, Emperor Valens personally led a force to confront Fritigern, only to be defeated by a combination of circumstance, luck and hubris. This defeat, Barbero asserts, presaged the splitting of the eastern and western halves of the Empire and the birth of a new West, in which the Romans were forced to coexist with Germans. Mining the same limited source material as his predecessors, the author has few new insights to offer into the defeat’s ramifications for Rome, and he’s hardly the first to mark Adrianople as the beginning of the end. Where Barbero does excel, however, is in recreating the day of the battle with evocative details and shrewd commentary on troop deployment and tactics.

Fascinating for generals, more mundane for historians.

Pub Date: April 3, 2007

ISBN: 0-8027-1571-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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