Although Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept (1981) is showing its age, it remains the best source on the run-up to the attack....

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PEARL HARBOR

FROM INFAMY TO GREATNESS

Bookshelves groan with accounts of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath, but readers will not regret this thick new contribution to the literature.

Journalist and historian Nelson (The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era, 2014, etc.) emphasizes that understanding Japanese politics would not have helped the United States forestall the attack because the Japanese government was out of control. “One simple explanation for Pearl Harbor…is the great difficulty American leaders had in crafting an effective defense strategy against an enemy that had lost its mind,” he writes. The main problem with the Japanese command was that no one was in charge. Civilian leaders were subservient to the military. The army and navy never cooperated, but, most disastrously, everyone was at the mercy of a wackily patriotic movement among midlevel officers who murdered any superior regarded as insufficiently devoted to their nation’s destiny. Popular opinion considered the practice technically illegal but admirable, similar to how Americans regard the Boston Tea Party. With lively prose and many astute insights, Nelson chronicles the Japanese-American political jockeying before moving on to the action, where he does not disappoint. Battle descriptions are socially acceptable historical porn, so readers’ eyes will be glued to the page as Nelson weaves archival research, interviews, and personal experiences from both sides into a blow-by-blow narrative of destruction liberally sprinkled with individual heroism, bizarre escapes, and equally bizarre tragedies. Oddly, the author reserves the extensive investigation and scapegoating for the appendix, spending perhaps too many pages on the Doolittle Raid and a workmanlike account of the Pacific War.

Although Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept (1981) is showing its age, it remains the best source on the run-up to the attack. Nelson covers this admirably but comes into his own when the fireworks begin.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6049-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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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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