For World War II buffs, an illuminating study of a depressing year.

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1939

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE COMING OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR

A history of the lead-up to World War II mostly from the point of view of Britain and Germany.

Despite the title, British historian Taylor, author of Dresden (2004), The Berlin Wall (2007), and other works of European history, covers the period from the October 1938 Munich Agreement through Germany’s invasion of Poland the following September. At their most loathsome during that year, Hitler and the Nazis achieved triumph after triumph against a dithering Britain and France. Cutting away regularly, the author uses diaries, letters, newspapers, surveys, and police reports to deliver a vivid account of how ordinary Britons and Germans reacted. Excepting many intellectuals and a few government officials, the average non-Jewish German admired Hitler. There was almost no unemployment despite a standard of living far below that in Britain and France, and the incessant patriotic cheerleading pleased almost everyone. Germans did not, however, want war, as Taylor clearly demonstrates. They liked the idea of acquiring more territory, but when Hitler promised to invade Czechoslovakia if it did not give up the Sudetenland, the absence of national enthusiasm disgusted him. As a result, in the summer before the war, Hitler’s propaganda machine poured out so much fake news denouncing Polish malevolence, depravity, and atrocities against its German minority that most felt invasion was justified. However, Britons wanted war even less than Germans, so much so that the Munich Pact produced almost universal cheers throughout the nation—although “once the initial joy at the avoidance of war had worn off there was a slow but steady growth of buyer’s remorse among many members of the general public.” This sentiment peaked in March 1939 when German troops occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia. At this point, most Britons agreed that Hitler was untrustworthy, and few objected when Britain and Poland signed a treaty that “guaranteed Polish independence.” That vague phrasing was easy to brush off, so Britain’s declaration of war after the invasion of Poland dismayed Germans from Hitler on down.

For World War II buffs, an illuminating study of a depressing year.

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00679-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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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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