Extraordinary, and likely to become a standard in courses devoted to the history of the Vietnam War.




A sprawling, vivid, and hard-to-put-down account of a mere two days in the fall of 1967, a time of two fierce battles: one in South Vietnam, the other in Wisconsin.

Washington Post reporter Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered, 1999, etc.) probably wasn’t thinking of James Michener when he set this epic down to paper, but the project certainly has a Michener-esque feel, with its huge cast of characters acting out in the face of great historical forces beyond their control. Maraniss is the more engaging writer, though, and he does a superb job of relating dozens of interwoven but distinct stories in which the obscure and the famous meet. In the Cs alone, for instance, there are William Coleman, a commander; Joe Costello, a grenadier; and Doug Cron, a rifleman—but also activist and actor Peter Coyote, US attorney general Ramsey Clark and his assistant Warren Christopher, and current US Vice President Dick Cheney. The latter, by Maraniss’s account, was busy avoiding the draft at the University of Wisconsin on those bright October days, though he would go on to rattle more than a few sabers. Meanwhile, the real saber-wielders, led by the noted soldier Terry Allen Jr., were busily killing and being killed in a ferocious battle 45 miles northwest of Saigon; some, even as early as 1967, had lost spouses and friends to the antiwar movement, which was gathering strength at the Madison campus, battling such hated symbols of the war as the Dow Chemical company and Lyndon B. Johnson. “There was an emerging awareness,” writes Maraniss of the antiwar activists, “that everything that had been tried to stop the war to that point had failed,” and, now toughened by tear gas and nightsticks, they were ready for the fight they got on the streets of Madison. Off in Vietnam, for their part, the soldiers of the tough-as-nails Black Lions unit were finding a vicious fight of their own—and compromised in that struggle by the leaders, or so many of the surviving soldiers felt. Both battles wrought terrible scars that have still not healed, and Maraniss’s careful narrative shows just why that should be so.

Extraordinary, and likely to become a standard in courses devoted to the history of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-1780-2

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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