Long, leisurely, and vastly entertaining.

A WRETCHED AND PRECARIOUS SITUATION

IN SEARCH OF THE LAST ARCTIC FRONTIER

The story of a 1913 Arctic expedition to investigate what the New York Tribune called “the last considerable mass of unknown land on our planet.”

Welky (History/Univ. of Central Arkansas; Marching Across the Color Line: A. Philip Randolph and Civil Rights in the World War II Era, 2013, etc.) recounts the effort by two eager young acolytes of Cmdr. Robert E. Peary to reveal the secrets of Crocker Land, a large, undiscovered landmass the famed explorer reported seeing on his failed 1906 attempt to reach the North Pole. Making magnificent use of documents and re-creating the yearslong Arctic sojourn with the drama and immediacy of a tension-filled adventure novel, the author conjures a romantic quest emblematic of the rugged manliness of the time. In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and with Peary’s blessing and the sponsorship of the American Museum of Natural History, the young explorers—Bowdoin graduate Donald MacMillan and Yalie George Borup—set out on a steamer with all the fanfare due an ambitious scientific exploration. Their journey, pitting a seven-man crew against the perils of Arctic life, from blizzards and ice floes to winter darkness and loneliness, involved “triumph, frustration, joy, infighting, betrayal, and murder” in “one of the harshest environments on the planet.” Working with such material and telling his story in vivid scenes rendered in wonderfully sharp declarative sentences, Welky offers a vibrant portrait of the young adventurers, their loyal Inuit helpers, and the ever present dangers of a forbidding place where, as leader MacMillan said, “the evil spirit of the Arctic is always watching.” Examining every aspect of the mission and its historical context, the author captures the can-do, all-American-boy spirit of the age, the constant fears of unforeseen disasters on the ice, and the fossil- and specimen-collecting mania that drove so much exploration. He also describes the expedition’s surprising discovery upon approaching Crocker Land in a way that enhances the fascination of his story.

Long, leisurely, and vastly entertaining.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-25441-9

Page Count: 492

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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