A coherent rendering of this complex, tumultuous and little-known history.

THE WORLD ON FIRE

1919 AND THE BATTLE WITH BOLSHEVISM

The world was ripe for revolution in 1919—so thought Lenin and Trotsky. In reality, as Read (The Devil’s Disciples: Hitler’s Inner Circle, 2004, etc.) demonstrates, it was ripe for repression.

The end of World War I saw Russia weakened by military defeat and revolution, so much so that, as Read observes, the Germans were able to impose on it a peace treaty so punishing that “the later Treaty of Versailles, about which they complained so piteously, seems remarkably mild by comparison.” Alarmed by the rise of communism, the Allied powers landed a small army in Russia, consisting mostly of Polish-Americans from Michigan and Wisconsin presumably chosen for the job because of their ethnic background. Against all this, the Bolshevik leadership committed itself to imposing a stern dictatorship pledged to sweep the nation of “bourgeois putrefaction.” In the West, and particularly the United States, the Red Scare set the tone, and it enabled all manner of suppression, as when government and business collaborated to crush the radical Wobblies and other labor organizers, elements of which responded with bombs against their persecutors, bringing charges of terrorism upon their heads. Meanwhile in Russia, the Allied force, divided and scarcely reinforced or supplied, began to crumble as Trotsky’s Red Army gained ground against the Whites, who were “badly led and had little stomach for the campaign.” Back in Washington, thousands of citizens were arrested by the homeland-security apparatus of the time, while Woodrow Wilson trumpeted, ironically, that his Republican opponents were Bolshevik dupes. The Republicans won nonetheless, having promised to end the Red Scare and return America to “normalcy.” Before they did—“normalcy” being the corruptions of the Harding administration—it was a field day for the forces of reaction, as newspapers thundered that communists were behind every door and civilization was doomed.

A coherent rendering of this complex, tumultuous and little-known history.

Pub Date: March 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06124-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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