An excellent addition to the literature of the Vietnam War, instructive and moving—but also likely to reopen old wounds.




They wore many uniforms but shared the same hell: a wide-ranging collection of oral histories, à la Studs Terkel, drawn from veterans of the Vietnam War.

To make this sprawling anthology, Appy (Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, not reviewed) ranged across the US and Vietnam, eventually interviewing 350 participants in the war (and the antiwar movement). Some refused to speak to him—notably, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, and Nguyen Van Thieu—but most were quite forthcoming, and one of the best qualities of this already exceptional gathering is its thoroughgoing candor. Todd Gitlin, an antiwar activist and historian, recalls, for example, that “everything in our experience contributed to a rather grandiose sense that we were the stars and spear-carriers of history”; Alexander Haig, a chief player in Nixon-era Vietnam policies, admits, “I was very instrumental in the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia. To claim that it was done without legislative knowledge is hogwash”; Time correspondent H.D.S. Greenway remembers that before the Tet offensive “we would write something and the magazine would ignore it if it wasn’t upbeat,” but later allowed criticism of the war. Of great value are the words from Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters, though American veterans will likely be upset by some of what they have to say, as when cadre Tran Thi Gung, then a teenage girl, recalls, “As soon as I started to fire, I killed an American. After he fell, some of his friends came rushing to his aid. They held his body and cried. They cried a lot. This made them sitting ducks. Very easy to shoot.” Even Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son, joins in, remarking that the Americans were wrong in thinking that Moscow was guiding the war: his father, he remarks, mistrusted the Communist Vietnamese, who in all events were fighting their own war and “had their own ideas.”

An excellent addition to the literature of the Vietnam War, instructive and moving—but also likely to reopen old wounds.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03214-X

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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