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KING OF SPIES

THE DARK REIGN AND RUIN OF AN AMERICAN SPYMASTER IN KOREA

An engrossing hidden history of wartime espionage, with elements of derring-do and moral barbarity.

Fascinating account of an espionage pioneer who thrived during the Korean War and then disappeared into disgraced obscurity.

Harden (The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom, 2015, etc.) deepens his exploration of Korean history with the bizarre story of Donald Nichols (1923-1992), who spent World War II as a motor pool sergeant, then moved into military intelligence in Korea as the peninsula was descending into civil war, becoming a confidant of anti-communist strongman (and eventual South Korean president) Syngman Rhee. “In Nichols,” writes the author, “Rhee discovered a back door for delivering intelligence that could influence American policy toward Korea.” However, Nichols also witnessed Rhee’s torture and massacre of both insurgents and civilians prior to the 1950 Soviet-backed North Korean invasion. Nichols’ prescient warnings about the invasion to the American military were ignored; once war began, he was able to run operations including code-breaking and pilfering secrets from disabled Russian tanks and planes. “The air force credited Nichols, more than anyone else, with finding bomb targets in North Korea,” writes Harden. Under the protection of a powerful superior, Nichols built up an unsupervised black-ops unit, often sending South Koreans on suicide missions. His shadowy activities continued after the 1952 armistice (when he was vilified as a spy in a North Korean show trial), but in 1957, Nichols was abruptly sacked by the military and hospitalized, receiving electroshock therapy. Living with relatives in Florida, the ex-spymaster tried to acclimate to civilian life, but he was eventually revealed to be a sexual predator, accused of molesting young boys. Harden’s research shows such behavior had begun with his subordinates during the war, seemingly signifying the amoral inner life of an otherwise audacious, successful spy. The author ably connects his ominous central figure to the larger mysterious, unresolved narrative of the Korean conflict.

An engrossing hidden history of wartime espionage, with elements of derring-do and moral barbarity.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-42993-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

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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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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