Pleasant and engaging—as historical document, travel journal and film footnote.




A compact history of a little-known WWI battle that inspired a well-known film.

The battle for Lake Tanganyika may not be as thoroughly covered by historians as the battle of Verdun, but seizing control of the lake was strategically important to Great Britain, as Foden (the Whitbread Award–winning The Last King of Scotland, 1998, etc.) shows in this meticulous, engaging and gracefully written account. In control of Lake Tanganyika, the Germans were poised to overrun the Belgians, who had entered the war as allies of Britain. As Britain’s great naval leaders were otherwise engaged, the Admiralty decided in 1915 to dispatch the clumsy, eccentric and egomaniacal Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson to rout the Germans. Desperate to become a hero—but practical enough to wear a skirt in the African jungle heat—Spicer-Simson led a motley crew that hauled two 40-foot mahogany gunboats (the Mimi and the Toutou) overland, then sailed them up the darkest Congo. Battling disease-carrying insects, boat-rattling hippopotami and natives craving “food that once talked,” the men witnessed an Africa that no longer exists, a forbidding and enticing place Foden describes in vivid detail. Eventually, the boats destroyed the Graf von Götzen, the mighty German ship commanding the lake. Spicer-Simson backed off from challenging one other German ship, but that didn’t preclude his rising to mythical status when he returned home. If threads of this adventure sound familiar, it’s because they eventually became the woof of C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel and John Huston’s 1951 film The African Queen. In an epilogue, Foden follows the story’s journey to the depths of the Congo.

Pleasant and engaging—as historical document, travel journal and film footnote.

Pub Date: April 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4157-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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