A gripping page-turner that thrills like fiction.

The story of desperate East Germans crossing over, digging under, and crashing through the Berlin Wall.

Using interviews, recently declassified State Department files, unreleased film footage, and Stasi archives, Mitchell (Atomic Cover-up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made, 2012, etc.) chronicles the Russian determination to stem the tide of refugees. From the late 1940s to 1961, “some 2.8 million East Germans fled to the West,” 20 percent of them through Berlin. In response to a spike of 19,000 per month in 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed and reinforced until its fall in 1989. The central figure of Mitchell’s story is Harry Seidel, an East German cycling champion who might easily have gone to the Olympics. But he had something else on his mind. Within weeks of the building of the wall, he led his wife and son and two dozen others to freedom. The other main player is the Stasi and their thousands of spies and moles. After people died trying to leap from buildings across the wall, crash through it, or swim the River Spree, Seidel began his first tunnel. He wasn’t the only one working in the West. The Girrmann group, making fake passports and hiding refugees in cars, also began a dig, not knowing of the true identity of their East German messenger, the Stasi spy Siegfried Uhse. The author ably captures the dedication of the men and women trying to get family, friends, and complete strangers to freedom. The introduction of newsmen arranging to film the digging and paying for the privilege might have caused friction among the diggers, except that what little money was given went to supplies for the tunnels. The successes were few and failures frustrating, especially in the wake of the unknown mole, but workers were determined and started a new tunnel as quickly as one closed.

A gripping page-turner that thrills like fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90385-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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