The harrowing story of two brilliant immunologists, one Christian, one Jewish, who were separated during World War II yet found heroic ways to turn their typhus vaccine research against the Nazis.

In a twist of irony not lost on Allen (Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato, 2010, etc.), Nazis were deathly afraid of lice. The little insects were known to carry typhus, a dreadful contagious disease that ravaged communities forced to live in subhuman conditions, including soldiers on the war front as well as inmates in concentration camps and ghettos. It therefore became a wartime imperative to eradicate the disease. In Poland, scientist Rudolf Weigl (1883-1957) and his assistant, Ludwig Fleck (1896-1961)—who would later write the seminal text The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact—were both enlisted to develop a typhus vaccine: Weigl in the service of the German army and Fleck under SS guard at Buchenwald. Their stories, beautifully told within the devastating tumult of Poland's unfolding history, describe the war from a vivid perspective: that of the laboratory saboteur. Weigl secretly used his lab to smuggle vaccines to the Polish ghettos and recruited many intellectuals as lab workers, saving their lives. (Frequently, these respected thinkers would be hired as louse-feeders, letting the creatures feed on their own blood—a surreal scene.) Meanwhile, Fleck's lab was also a center of conspiracy, and his sabotage was even more dangerous and cunning: He produced a fake typhus vaccine for German troops and Nazi experimenters while sneaking real doses to desperate inmates. Both scientists risked terrible deaths to defend the idea of moral good despite the corruption, bloodshed and evil surrounding them. Allen is unflinching in his retelling of this monstrous era, but he manages to avoid writing a depressing narrative. Instead, Weigl, Fleck and their vaccines illuminate the inherent social complexities of science and truth and reinforce the overriding good of man.

An unforgettable book.

Pub Date: July 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-08101-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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