Lacks drama, intrigue and insight.



How a landmark Supreme Court ruling that established the state secrets privilege was challenged 50 years later.

In 1948, an Air Force test flight crashed into the swamps of Florida, killing three civilian contractors on board. Consequently, their families sued the government to determine what went wrong. Citing executive privilege and national security, the Air Force refused to divulge any information and was eventually vindicated by the Supreme Court in its 1953 ruling, U.S. v. Reynolds. In 2003, a widow and three children of the dead contractors petitioned to have the ruling overturned, claiming the Air Force had lied to cover up negligence. Giving the increasing importance of Reynolds (the Bush administration cites it constantly), this should be a fascinating story. Regrettably, Pulitzer-winner Siegel (Lines of Defense, 2002, etc.) clutters it with irrelevant detail, such as where minor figures in the drama went to college and what they studied. He also fails to bring to life the major players, who read like stock characters in an intergenerational TV drama. Reynolds had a dramatic impact on American policy during the past 50 years, Siegel rightly points out; it’s frequently cited by government officials seeking to keep their doings hidden from prying journalists and aggrieved plaintiffs—or, if you buy the government’s version, evil terrorists. The author loses these complexities amid the minutiae of the case as it wound it way through the courts, from ’48 to ’53 and ’03 to ’07, when the Supreme Court again ruled against the contractors’ families. That decision suggests how greatly the first Reynolds decision has shaped current government policy and behavior, as well as judicial oversight of it, but Siegel never lifts his eyes from the details long enough to provide the in-depth analysis this important case demands.

Lacks drama, intrigue and insight.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-077702-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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