A rewarding book with much to offer, including the likely spark of new interest in how singular choices made by both men and...

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

The carnage of war, the rise of a dictator and one North Korean defector’s life story all come together in this combination of biography, military history and exposé.

Harden (Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, 2012, etc.) skillfully fuses all his narrative threads into one united chronicle. In narrating the rise of North Korea’s first communist dictator, Kim Il Sung, Harden ties Kim’s story to that of defector No Kum Sok. The once-privileged son of a factory owner under Japanese rule, No disliked communism and its constraints from the start and began planning his escape the first time he heard Kim speak in person. No spent five years pretending to be zealously committed to the party in order to protect himself long enough to put his plan into action. He joined the navy and volunteered to become a fighter pilot in hopes of flying his way out of North Korea. Eventually, he did just that, crossing the border to South Korea in a MiG-15 and leaving Kim and communism behind for good. To complement both No’s and Kim’s stories, Harden keeps the Korean War in the foreground. He includes details that were left out of American news and military reports, using recently disclosed military documents and No’s eyewitness testimony. The U.S looms large in this book, both as a dream destination for No and a terrifying agent of death and destruction for his homeland. Using this multifaceted view, Harden explains how Kim, though laughably inept regarding military strategy and in fulfilling his nation’s needs, was able to build a lasting dictatorial dynasty.

A rewarding book with much to offer, including the likely spark of new interest in how singular choices made by both men and nations can reverberate for generations.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01657-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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