Excellent detail for certain readers, too much information for others.


INTO BATTLE, 1937-1941

Authoritative first of a two-part history of Britain around the time of World War II.

Todman (History/Queen Mary Univ. of London; The Great War: Myth and Memory, 2006) prefaces this sweeping, (overly?) exhaustive look at British society during these fraught years by referring to his grandparents experiencing the war as “the defining moment of their lives.” He tells this story “as it went along”—i.e., as the citizens would have endured it daily rather than with the hindsight we enjoy. Indeed, the late 1930s were marked by joyous celebrations: there was a new king in 1937 (after the depressing turmoil of Edward VIII’s abdication), and in the next year, the new Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s triumphant return from appeasing Hitler in Munich. Less than two decades after the last conflagration, few Britons, notes the author, “believed that another ‘great’ war would be anything less than a disaster for humanity.” Much of the detail of the run-up to war with Germany involves the machinations of government—i.e., Conservative versus Labour—and military preparedness: the doubling of the Territorial Army and escalation of the navy and Royal Air Force, all requiring enormous expense. To get a sense of what Britons were really feeling, Todman enlists, along with extensive use of archives and periodicals, the material gathered by Charles Madge’s social scientific experiment, the Mass-Observation: detailed, ongoing descriptions gathered by regular people across the country to reveal a true sense of “public opinion.” The author also includes numerous firsthand accounts from citizens, especially during the Blitz, which targeted British ports and industry and prompted evacuations of children and the vulnerable, who formed fire-watching services and united popular support for retaliation. In addition, Todman examines the participation of the whole of the British Empire and the galvanizing effort of the new prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Excellent detail for certain readers, too much information for others.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-062180-3

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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...


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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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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