An insightful, though often impersonal, exploration of an ongoing conflict.

HUNTING THE CALIPHATE

A dual memoir and military history of America’s war with the Islamic State group.

This book provides readers with what may be the most complete insider’s perspective on the United States’ struggle against the Islamic State group to date. Maj. Gen. Pittard is a graduate of West Point, a former senior fellow at Harvard University, and the former leader of a U.S. task force “to help Iraqi and Kurdish Forces protect the capitals of Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdish Region from the relentless advance of the terrorist ‘army’ of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS).” His co-author, Master Sgt. Bryant, enlisted in the Air Force in 1998 after a directionless post–high school period that included a few failed community college classes. Their combined perspectives create a narrative that expertly explains the complexities of Middle Eastern politics and also offers the perspective of the war from the soldiers on the ground. Pittard’s chapters give readers key insights into the geopolitical and domestic factors that complicated American strategies, from competing ethnic and religious groups to contentious behind-the-scenes conversations with American politicians, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain. One section that particularly stands out is Pittard’s discussion of the difficulties locating “trained moderate Syrian rebels,” whom American politicians were eager to assist. Alternately, Bryant’s passages relate the intensity and terror of the battlefield in a flavorful vernacular (“the hours eked by”) that’s absent from Pittard’s lessons on Middle East politics. The book also tells the story of the rise of “strike cells” to hunt and killing Islamic State members, which combined ground forces with airstrikes, directed from remote operations centers—and represented a new phase in U.S. military history. The two men provide a shared skepticism of Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, intermittently critiquing both of them throughout the book. Pittard, for instance, asserts that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “diplomatically outmaneuvered” Obama to become a central player in the region following the American president’s reluctance to intervene in Syria—even after it was proven that Bashar Assad’s regime used chemical weapons. Emphasizing the point of view of troops on the ground, Bryant critiques American politicians who seemed to have placed “not just the lives—but the perceptions of the Afghan people above the welfare of U.S. warfighters.” His accounts are also peppered with implicitly orientalist descriptions of the Middle East, however; at one point, for example, he describes Kandahar as “a Mad Max version of civilization—trying to copy the West, but not quite getting it right.” That said, in one of the book’s more introspective sections, Bryant reflects on his own biases after observing joyous Muslim families at a shopping mall in Bahrain. Similar contemplative passages are rare, though, leaving readers without valuable insights into the physical, mental, and spiritual tolls of war, which are common in military memoirs. Also, although both authors introduce readers to their families, the impact of the war on their loved ones’ lives is equally elusive.

An insightful, though often impersonal, exploration of an ongoing conflict.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64293-055-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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