Excellent, as is Halberstam’s custom, and instructive for those seeking to understand geopolitical realities.

WAR IN A TIME OF PEACE

BUSH, CLINTON, AND THE GENERALS

Another weighty tome from the noted journalist and historian, this one chronicling the sometimes confused, always complex junction of foreign policy and military might.

Halberstam (The Children, 1998, etc.), a familiar explainer of the ways of Washington, here turns his attention to an ongoing matter: the reshaping of the US military following the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. When the armed services faced its first major test after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was in the one-sided Persian Gulf War, “a devastating four-day land war, a rout preceded by five weeks of lethal, high-precision, high-technology air dominance.” Halberstam focuses closely on John Warden, a “brilliant, truly innovative, and equally difficult” air force colonel who, having been sharply critical of the conduct of the Vietnam War, developed a doctrine of absolute air supremacy and of bombing the enemy into submission; he also looks closely at Warden’s civilian counterparts, who imposed political conditions on the military and, some critics have charged, prevented the Allied forces from taking Baghdad and putting an end to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Other recent military ventures, Halberstam observes, ended less successfully than the Gulf War, among them the disastrous American intervention in Somalia and the inconclusive invasion of Haiti; no international conflict exposed the weakness of American resolve and the ongoing legacy of the so-called Vietnam Syndrome than the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, about which the first Bush administration did next to nothing and the Clinton administration merely dithered. As always, Halberstam’s cast of characters numbers in the high dozens, and his fondness for encyclopedic detail lends a daunting air to an already dense discussion. Still, well-written and lucid, his narrative reveals a military that continues to be ill-coordinated to meet—and sometimes opposed to—the political ends of its civilian overseers, who in turn often seem terminally confused about the rest of the world.

Excellent, as is Halberstam’s custom, and instructive for those seeking to understand geopolitical realities.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-0212-0

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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