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THE DOGS ARE EATING THEM NOW

OUR WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

A dragon awaits, in other words. Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia.

Think Afghanistan is bad now? Just wait until American forces leave entirely and the dragon rises again.

The dragon trope is foreign correspondent Smith’s, borrowing from the old cartographer’s notation that dragons lurk in unmapped corners of the Earth. “The thing about modern civilization,” says one battle-hardened GI, “is that we can’t stand those empty spots. The dragons fly out and bite you in the ass.” So they do, and by Smith’s account, the dragons are multiplying. Eloquent and sometimes-hallucinatory, reminiscent at turns of Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Smith’s narrative takes us from bad to worse. In one set piece, a coalition soldier lets loose a rocket with the remark, “There goes a Porsche,” precisely because the rocket costs as much as a sports car. Meanwhile, the enemy makes lethal weapons out of scraps, odd bits of fertilizer, plastic buckets and rusty tools. The result is devastating, and Smith does not shy from decidedly not-for-workplace descriptions: “Charred pieces of human flesh stuck to the armour. A television reporter wrinkled her nose at the sight, and I asked her: ‘Can you believe they were trying to sell me a story about how things have gotten better in Panjwai?’ ” Smith is a master of the battlefield description, but he’s even better at slyly noting the ironies and complexities of the war: for instance, destroying a farmer’s opium crop, while falling under the rubric of the war on drugs, would likely turn the farmer against the United States. Solution? Hire mercenaries to “slip into areas secured by NATO troops and raze the fields, without telling anybody they were sent by the foreigners.” Worse, in the author’s formulation, is now that we’re mired, we’re stuck, no matter how we pretend otherwise: “At best, we are leaving behind an ongoing war. At worst, it’s a looming disaster.”

A dragon awaits, in other words. Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1619024793

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Awards & Accolades

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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