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

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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