Scrupulous academic account that ultimately fails to do full justice to the chilling fascination of its subject. The bland subtitle that Knight (Senior Research Analyst/Library of Congress) chooses signals both the strengths and weaknesses of this first full-scale biography of Stalin's infamous police chief Laventrii Beria—``My Himmler,'' as Uncle Joe nicknamed him. Exploiting the mass of documentation newly available from former Soviet archives, Knight traces with forensic precision the sometime architectural student's rise, through the bloody ranks of Lenin's Cheka and its Stalinist successors in Georgia during the USSR's formative years, to oversee Stalin's massive edifice of organized state terror from 1938 until the dictator's death in 1953. Implicit in Knight's matter-of-fact account is the claim that Beria was singular less for his ruthless violence than for his adroit negotiation of Soviet internal politics and his canny currying of favor with Stalin. Yet the broader context of the culture of terror in which Beria's ghastly talents flourished remains hazy: Knight supplies no ethical or moral account of Stalinism, and few contemporary figures beyond Beria himself, his grim master, and familiar names such as Khrushchev, Malenkov, and Molotov emerge distinctly. Moreover, those new to the murderous intricacies of Stalinist infighting may find clarity retreating under a mass of initials, patronymics, and organizational acronyms. Knight readily acknowledges Beria's ``evil'' but does too little to help her readers understand it; hence her subsequent heavy stress on his unexpected emergence, in the frenzied power struggle that followed Stalin's death, as a pragmatic reformer—hardly absolution, most readers will feel, for a lifetime otherwise unblemished by loyalty, compassion, or common decency. In avoiding sensationalism or unbridled psychological speculation, Knight forgoes a full apprehension of the pathology of Beria and the system that bred him—without which many may choose not to endure the man's odious company. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-691-03257-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1993

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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