Both a lucid history and a gripping cautionary tale. (b&w photos, not seen; 19 maps)



An engaging, thoroughly researched account of Nazi Germany’s surprising, rapid defeat of French and Allied forces in the spring of 1940.

Historian May (The Kennedy Tapes, 1997) argues that “fatal misjudgments” of the Allied command brought a defeat that was “almost inconceivable” to just about all the participants. Prior to the German victory, virtually no one but Hitler himself believed that the superior forces of France (allied with Britain, the Netherlands, and—too late—Belgium) could lose. With the swift felicity of a scholar in total command of his subject, May moves from Berlin to London to Paris, describing and assessing the decision-making and the decision-makers. We meet a Hitler who, though a late sleeper and habitual moviegoer, had “a broader conceptual framework than his professional advisers and a broader base of knowledge.” His strident, intransigent insistence on having his way is one of the principal reasons for Germany’s military successes from 1938 to 1940, and also accounts for Britain’s ability to evacuate nearly 340,000 men from Dunkerque (Hitler had issued a puzzling stop order that prevented his forces from capturing or killing tens of thousands). The German invasion involved an elaborate feint in Belgium, followed by a major attack through the Ardennes Forest (the so-called “Plan Yellow”), which succeeded because the “best French soldiers [were] in the wrong places, and the worst-prepared French soldiers” found themselves confronting “the best that the Germans had.” May notes a number of eerie parallels to our own day (when Americans expect to fight wars without casualties). Hitler, for instance, believed that the French were “preoccupied with their comfort” and that the British were “materialists” who would “quit once their pocketbooks suffered.” Among May’s many provocative conclusions are that the “imaginativeness” of Nazi planners far surpassed that of the Allies and that “Allied intelligence services performed abominably.” Many informative notes, a 50-page bibliography.

Both a lucid history and a gripping cautionary tale. (b&w photos, not seen; 19 maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8090-8906-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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