Preston brings this obscure, ill-begotten conflict to a lively, pertinent center stage.




An earlier invasion of Afghanistan by the British offers some enlightening lessons for American readers in this nicely encapsulated study by a British historian.

Troubled by the expansionist vision of Russia in Central Asia and keen to protect the interests of the East India Company, the British crown cooked up a wild scheme to invade Afghanistan in 1838. The aim was to replace one crackpot dynasty for another, but the occupation went on for two years and raised native insurrection, essentially repelling the British troops and leaving a bitter aftertaste for the inhabitants of the land. Does this scenario sound familiar? Preston (Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima, 2005, etc.) does an admirable job of enlarging the narrow, academic nature of the conflict for more accessible consumption. As a buffer and traditional transit point, the feudal Afghanistan was attractive to invaders from Darius of Persia and Alexander of Macedonia to the 18th-century Persian Nadir Shah, who all crossed the Khyber Pass on their way to sack and subdue India. British precursors to the region had included Mountstuart Elphinstone and his delegation, who had tread gingerly over the disputes between Afghan leaders; and Scottish officer Alexander Burnes, sent by the British on an espionage fact-finding mission to assess the navigability of the Indus in 1831. Burnes reported on the immense trade potential for the British, though the British hardly understood the region’s factionalism. Afghan governor general Lord Auckland issued the famous Simla Manifesto of Oct. 1, 1838, justifying an invasion that was no longer relevant since the Russian-backed Persians were already in retreat. The bewildered British withdrew by 1842, concluding “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, and brought to a close, after suffering and disaster, without much glory attaching either to the government which directed, or the great body of the troops which waged it.”

Preston brings this obscure, ill-begotten conflict to a lively, pertinent center stage.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8027-7982-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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