A potent, powerful history of cruelty and dehumanization.



Dispelling the assumption that concentration camps began and ended in Nazi Germany.

Pitzer (The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov, 2013), the founder of the Nieman Storyboard at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, examines what she deems “the defining atrocity” of the 20th century. Drawing on memoirs, histories, and archival sources, she offers a chilling, well-documented history of the camps’ development. The precursor of concentration camps, she contends, arrived with the Spanish Empire, which pursued a policy of relocating and imprisoning native populations in the Americas. Later, in the American Civil War, the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp was “a harbinger of the civilian concentration camps that were to come.” These burgeoned during the Boer War at the end of the 19th century, during which scores of camps held prisoners of war, civilians identified as enemies, and more than 100,000 black Africans. Dysentery, typhoid, and pneumonia coursed through camp populations. That model of incarceration was carried on by Germans in South Africa, who built camps at military posts to contain the despised Herero and use them for forced labor. Every man, woman, and child “wore stamped, numbered metal tags,” and some children became the personal slaves of German officers. Characterized by barbed wire, rotting food, and brutal, hierarchical supervision, the first decade of concentration camps presaged the proliferation of camps for enemy aliens during World War I. In 1914, combatant nations herded hundreds of thousands of civilians in networks of camps located far from the battlefield, “a deliberate choice to inject the framework of war into society itself.” The perception of civilians as a threat justified genocide such as the persecution of Armenians by Turkey and of Jews, homosexuals, and the disabled by Nazis. In grim detail, Pitzer portrays camps in Cuba, the Philippines, Russia, China, and North Korea as well as the rounding up of Japanese citizens in the U.S. She sees Guantánamo as a contemporary instance of “indefinite detention without trial,” which is “the hallmark of a concentration camp system.”

A potent, powerful history of cruelty and dehumanization.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30359-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist


A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?