A well-rendered account of a history too little known in the West.

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THE RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR

Hands up: Who knew that American forces once invaded Russia?

The Russian Civil War, writes Mawdsley (Modern History/Glasgow Univ.; Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War, 1941–1945, 2006, etc.), began just as soon as the Russian Revolution did. Lenin’s Bolsheviks moved swiftly to consolidate power, repressing the socialists who dominated the nation as a whole but who were weak in the industrial cities. At the same time, Cossacks, monarchists, cadets and other foes of the new regime took up arms, while “the civilian opponents of the Bolsheviks, people of the moderate Left and Right, lacked effective combat forces of their own and played no parts.” The contending extremist armies, Red and White, would be locked in war for the next three years, with units from the British, American and French armies appearing on various fronts to battle the Bolshevik forces. The state established a program of what the regime called “War Communism,” taking emergency measures that in some cases turned out to be permanent. Radical policies of appropriation and state monopoly, backed by a powerful army, “helped the Bolsheviks to take power,” writes Mawdsley, even if “as the months passed . . . the political benefits came to look more dubious” as productivity plummeted and food shortages gripped the nation—driving many farmers, in the bargain, into the anticommunist camp. The Whites soon began to lose the fight, however, routed at places such as Tsaritsyn, a city on the Volga that would be renamed Stalingrad. Mawdsley attributes the loss to many factors, from being outnumbered and outgunned to the staggering incompetence of many White generals and the lack of central coordination among the anti-Bolshevik forces. Sporadic fighting continued until 1922 in Siberia, carried out by figures such as the Baron Ungern-Sternberg, “an unbalanced Baltic nobleman . . . already notorious for his atrocities in Transbaikal.” After that time, though, Soviet domination was complete and would endure for another seven decades.

A well-rendered account of a history too little known in the West.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933648-15-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers...

GRANT

A massive biography of the Civil War general and president, who “was the single most important figure behind Reconstruction.”

Most Americans know the traditional story of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885): a modest but brutal general who pummeled Robert E. Lee into submission and then became a bad president. Historians changed their minds a generation ago, and acclaimed historian Chernow (Washington: A Life, 2010, etc.), winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, goes along in this doorstop of a biography, which is admiring, intensely detailed, and rarely dull. A middling West Point graduate, Grant performed well during the Mexican War but resigned his commission, enduring seven years of failure before getting lucky. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was the only West Point graduate in the area, so local leaders gave him a command. Unlike other Union commanders, he was aggressive and unfazed by setbacks. His brilliant campaign at Vicksburg made him a national hero. Taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he forced Lee’s surrender, although it took a year. Easily elected in 1868, he was the only president who truly wanted Reconstruction to work. Despite achievements such as suppressing the Ku Klux Klan, he was fighting a losing battle. Historian Richard N. Current wrote, “by backing Radical Reconstruction as best he could, he made a greater effort to secure the constitutional rights of blacks than did any other President between Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.” Recounting the dreary scandals that soiled his administration, Chernow emphasizes that Grant was disastrously lacking in cynicism. Loyal to friends and susceptible to shady characters, he was an easy mark, and he was fleeced regularly throughout his life. In this sympathetic biography, the author continues the revival of Grant’s reputation.

At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers will regret the experience. For those seeking a shorter treatment, turn to Josiah Bunting’s Ulysses S. Grant (2004).

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-487-6

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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