An intriguing, bracing tale, and not just for history buffs.




Before 9/11 there was July 30, 1916.

On that day, German saboteurs lit up the skies around New York Harbor with a massive explosion at the Black Tom munitions depot in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty near what is now Liberty State Park. The fiery detonation, which could be felt as far away as Maryland, blew out the windows of lower Manhattan buildings as far north as the main New York Public Library branch on 42nd Street. It was the most spectacular (though far from the only) act of sabotage carried out by Germany's well-placed network of spies and bombmakers, determined to halt the shipment of ammunition from the still-“neutral” United States to its World War I Allies in Europe. Millman (Pickup Artists: Street Basketball in America, 1998), a career sportswriter, deftly narrates the story of the brazen German agents who planned the sabotage, then turns to the exhausting legal battle that ensued to get Germany to admit its guilt and pay for the damage. The effort wouldn't end until Hitler was in power and the Second World War had begun. Initially, the Black Tom explosion was branded an accident, and none of the German saboteurs was ever arrested for the crime. It wasn't until 1924 that the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which owned Black Tom, brought suit against Germany before the Mixed Claims Commission, a legal entity created to hear claims against Germany following the war. The exhausting legal case would consume the lives of both American and German lawyers, locked in a struggle to uncover or suppress the truth about Germany's role. In a clear, cogent narrative, Millman does a good job of navigating the complex issues and behind-the-scenes politics that fueled this marathon legal battle. He also proves adept at fleshing out the human stories of the main characters involved. Those include John McCloy, who risked his legal career to take on the case; John Larkin, a fiery Irish labor leader whose 11th-hour revelations proved crucial; and Fred Herrmann, an American citizen turned German spy who was tracked to Chile and talked into confessing his role.

An intriguing, bracing tale, and not just for history buffs.

Pub Date: July 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-73496-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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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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