Popular history at its best: a narrative with attitude—thoroughly researched, gracefully written. Possibly a classic. (62...



A sweeping, swirling history of the end of WWI and the ensuing struggle for peace—and of the inadvertent and ineluctable construction of the foundation of WWII.

Dallas (The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo, 1997, etc.), born in London, educated at Berkeley, and now residing in France, is uniquely fit for this daunting task: He knows the languages, has explored the trenches, and has read the relevant published and archival documents. Consistent with his belief that history is local, he focuses on the geography of the north of western Europe, reminding us that “it is one large open plain. Europe’s history is constructed on that fact.” He begins his story as the war is ending. The US—despite its peculiar, disobliging insistence on keeping its forces independent—has finally arrived and, despite some initial failures, has provided the decisive boost in manpower and morale. Dallas crisply describes the military maneuvers that forced the German capitulation—and does not neglect the sanguinary details: “Horrors that would have been incredible to anyone before 1914 were the daily dose for soldiers on the front in 1918.” He deftly shifts venues—London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Washington—letting us know what is happening and sketching portraits of many of the principal players, pointing his finger to events of significance not just in the geopolitical struggle but in the smaller, human ones as well. Thus, we watch the young poet Wilfred Owen fall during the final days; we see Lincoln Steffens interview Lenin. Still, it’s the leaders whose stories grip us. Woodrow Wilson’s myopic insistence on placing his League of Nations at the top of the armistice agenda, Lloyd George’s physical agitation before he rose to speak, Clemenceau’s determination to remain at work after surviving an assassin’s bullet. And—most amazing—the Germans’ refusal to acknowledge that they had even lost the war.

Popular history at its best: a narrative with attitude—thoroughly researched, gracefully written. Possibly a classic. (62 b&w photographs, 4 maps)

Pub Date: May 24, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-157-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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