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FIRST TO FLY

THE STORY OF THE LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE, THE AMERICAN HEROES WHO FLEW FOR FRANCE IN WORLD WAR I

Top-notch military history.

The word “legendary” is overused in military history, but it is almost an understatement for the Lafayette Escadrille.

Flood (Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year, 2011, etc.) produced a string of memorable histories before his death in 2014. This one centers on a cast of characters as wild as any in fiction. The Lafayette Escadrille was made up of American volunteers, pioneering fighter pilots at a time when flight itself was still in its infancy. The squadron had a core of rich Ivy Leaguers, but its members came from all backgrounds, including an Alaskan dog trainer and a couple of cowboys. Few of them had ever flown planes. They drank heavily, enjoyed the sexual favors of numerous willing Frenchwomen, had a pair of lions as mascots, and wore a variety of nonregulation uniforms. They flew combat missions in flimsy wooden planes against better-trained and -equipped German pilots. Miraculously, some of them survived their first dogfights and went on to become aces. From the founding of the squadron to final armistice, 27 of the 38 men who flew missions survived. Flood tells their stories, based on their own accounts, with more emphasis on the personalities than on tactics and strategy. One of the most colorful was Bert Hall, a gambler, womanizer, and part-time spy whose memoirs provided plentiful—if sometimes self-aggrandizing—material. A more modest flier, Edmund Genet, was a deserter from the U.S. Navy who kept a detailed diary before dying on a mission in 1917. Flood also draws on German sources, giving us glimpses of the war as seen by the likes of “Red Baron” von Richthofen and Hermann Goering. While the author doesn’t always provide dates—perhaps that’s too much to ask with such an undisciplined unit as his subject—his portrayal of the fliers and the crazy life-and-death world they lived in is priceless.

Top-notch military history.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2365-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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