Better books are available, but for general readers, this account is a worthy introduction to a battle that has become a...

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ON DESPERATE GROUND

THE MARINES AT THE RESERVOIR, THE KOREAN WAR'S GREATEST BATTLE

A Korean War story of miscalculation, military ambition, and overreach.

Outside editor Sides (In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, 2014, etc.) doesn’t always dig deep for topics, but once he settles on one, no matter how well-covered previously, he piles on the research. So it is with this story of “Frozen Chosin,” when American forces of the 1st Marine Division penetrated deep into North Korea, assured by their commanders that Mao’s Chinese forces would not cross the Yalu River and enter the fight. In any event, Douglas MacArthur devalued the Chinese: “They were nothing more than a band of serfs—subsisting on rice balls and yams, relying on little burp gins and fizzly explosives that usually failed to detonate, an army held together with hemp string and bamboo.” MacArthur had reason to re-evaluate his position once 300,000 Chinese troops entered the fray and encircled a much smaller American force in a mountain fastness alongside a huge reservoir. Fought in bitterly cold temperatures, the battle was horrible: “The cold seemed to come with only one upside: It had a cauterizing effect on wounds. Blood from bullet holes or shrapnel tears simply froze to the skin and stopped flowing." The Battle of Chosin Reservoir is part of the DNA of every Marine since, and numerous books, such as Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s excellent Last Stand of Fox Company (2009) and Roy Appleman’s order-of-battle East of Chosin (1987), have emerged as standards in the field. Sides adds a fast-moving and well-written narrative to the mix, though without bringing much news to the enterprise. A plus is his respectful treatment of the sometimes-maligned (especially in Army accounts) Marine field commander, the scholarly but tough Gen. Oliver P. Smith.

Better books are available, but for general readers, this account is a worthy introduction to a battle that has become a byword for suffering.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54115-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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