Serviceable but lackluster account.

THE GREATEST BATTLE

STALIN, HITLER, AND THE DESPERATE STRUGGLE FOR MOSCOW THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF WORLD WAR II

An examination of what was indeed the greatest battle, numerically and perhaps otherwise, in history.

Nagorski (Last Stop Vienna, 2003, etc.), a former Newsweek Moscow bureau chief, draws on recently declassified Soviet archives to explore unknown aspects of the half-year-long battle for Russia’s capital over the fall and winter of 1941-42. One of them comes after the war, when Soviet commander Marshal Zhukov, now defense minister, requested an estimate of Soviet casualties; when he received it, he ordered its author, “Hide it and don’t show it to anybody!” And for good reason, as Nagorski shows: Overall Russian casualties in the battle were 1,896,500, against the Germans’ 615,000. Not that the Germans had it easy; convinced that Moscow would be taken before the winter came, Adolf Hitler failed to provide cold-weather gear for his men, thousands of whom died of frostbite and exposure. The news in Nagorski’s book isn’t much news at all: Neither Hitler nor his Soviet counterpart, Josef Stalin, shied from sacrificing soldiers for their respective totalitarian causes, so that the Armageddon-sized battle was all but inevitable. Still, this was something new: Soviet soldiers who had been captured and then liberated, for instance, were sent into battle in human-wave assaults, with almost zero chance of survival, while even the most loyal Soviet soldier often went into battle without a weapon, told to scavenge one from a dead German. Small wonder that the casualties were so heavy. Though he considers what might have happened had Hitler not split his forces into three fronts and instead gone straight for Moscow, Nagorski’s account lacks the big-picture clarity of other journalistic studies of the Russian war, such as Harrison Salisbury’s The 900 Days; the battle scenes are uninspired, too, as military-history buffs of the Cornelius Ryan school will quickly note.

Serviceable but lackluster account.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-8110-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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...

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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