There are few more essential books for Civil War buffs and professional historians alike. A welcome, valuable addition to...

HEARTS TOUCHED BY FIRE

THE BEST OF BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR

Firsthand accounts of the bloodletting whose 150th anniversary we are about to commemorate, some of which might have saved later historians embarrassment.

In 1883, only 20 years after Gettysburg, the editors of The Century magazine commissioned a comprehensive series of articles from senior officers on both sides of the conflict, documenting great events and more modest episodes alike. For the next four years, contributions poured in, and The Century experienced a huge bump in circulation. Here, political historian Holzer (Lincoln: President-Elect, 2008, etc.) serves up a comparatively compact selection, whittling the original down to a quarter and enlisting leading historians—James McPherson, Joan Waugh, Craig Symonds and others—to provide contextual introductions and notes. The result is a model of scholarship and historical editing—though, as is proper, its greatest value is in presenting those original views. Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee writes of the war’s stage-setting process. At the first Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Ala., many believed first that there would be no war; writes Lee, “The expectation of ‘peaceable secession’ was the delusion that precipitated matters in the South.” One of Lee’s counterparts, Jacob D. Cox, writes that the North was scarcely better prepared, though rumors of war had long been rumbling: “There had for many years been no money appropriated to buy military material or even to protect the little the State had.” After the disaster at Bull Run—ably recounted by victorious Confederate generals Beauregard and Johnston—the North was better equipped and would forever remain so. Every page here is fascinating, but historians should note the firsthand accounts of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, which has been second-guessed ever since, but which seems all but inevitable from a you-are-there perspective. The answer to why Robert E. Lee appeared at Appomattox in a brand-new uniform, which has puzzled some historians, is also revealed. Many of the Confederate writers are sharply critical of the political conduct of the South, condemning Jefferson Davis for, in the words of one, “drift[ing], from the beginning to the end of the war.” Some Union writers, for their parts, are scarcely more complimentary of their leadership.

There are few more essential books for Civil War buffs and professional historians alike. A welcome, valuable addition to the vast library devoted to the conflict.

Pub Date: April 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-679-64364-7

Page Count: 1280

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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