WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE

REAGAN, STAR WARS AND THE END OF THE COLD WAR

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist FitzGerald (Cities on a Hill, 1986, etc.) mixes comprehensive detail and tart observation in this account of high-tech meeting high-touch—the promotion of the Strategic Defensive Initiative (SDI) by Ronald Reagan. The first two years of the Reagan administration were characterized by a foreign-policy paralysis, in which the amiable but remote President was unable to choose between hard-line anticommunists and pragmatists searching for an accommodation with the Soviets. By 1983 the administration had launched the largest US military buildup in peacetime history, thereby dividing NATO and igniting the nuclear-freeze movement. In that year, Reagan called on scientists to perfect a technology that would render ballistic missiles “impotent and obsolete.” The ensuing “Star Wars” initiative of lasers and particle-beam hardware was formally unveiled in 1985. It was, FitzGerald believes, “Reagan’s greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller,” defanging the freeze movement at one stroke and garnering congressional votes from both Democrats and Republicans despite widespread doubts as to its feasibility. FitzGerald untangles the origins of Reagan’s views on SDI, sketches the ferocious Washington infighting it set off (between George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, arms-control negotiator Paul Nitze, and others), and depicts the four groundbreaking summits it incited with Gorbachev. She disputes that SDI caused the Soviets to make the concessions that produced the INF treaty and START I, though, noting that Gorbachev dismissed the program as a military threat. Still, she credits Reagan, the most saber-rattling of postwar presidents, with enough prescience to recognize (long before many of his most devoted followers) that the Cold War had reached its end. A difficult subject, endowed with enough drama, irony, and political perception to match its importance.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-84416-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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...

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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

1776

A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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