A beautifully crafted, blow-by-blow account with deep insight into the lives of these diverse young men.



A painstaking chronological account of the hideously marred attack on the German entrenchments at the Somme, July-September 1916.

British journalist Sebag-Montefiore (Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man, 2006, etc.) begins in medias res on July 1, 1916, the first of many British and French offensives to dislodge the German front along the river Somme in Belgium. The promised map (not seen) surely illustrates the armies’ slogs during those brutal weeks, when tens of thousands on both sides perished due to ill-informed leaders and for insignificant gains. The author vividly delineates the narrative via extracts from diaries and letters from soldiers. The long line of trenches had been held since the summer of 1914, after Germany’s invasion into Belgium was halted at the Marne by Anglo-French troops, and a stalemate had ensued. The plan for the Somme offensive had been underway since December 1915, but Sebag-Montefiore underscores its many flaws—e.g., inadequate artillery coverage and inability to cut through the German barbed wire at the right places, among other problems. Commanded by Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, the British Expeditionary Force at this point consisted mostly of inexperienced, inefficient volunteers. Moreover, in a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” between Haig and Gen. Henry Rawlinson, head of the British 4th Army unit selected for the Somme attack, Haig exerted what the author characterizes as an “unhealthy ascendancy” over Rawlinson, who had justifiable reservations about the attack, as did the British war committee. The author considers the bad weather and the capture of several British deserters who revealed to the Germans the extent and timing of the big push, thereby robbing the British of the element of surprise. Nevertheless, the overconfident officers assured their trusting soldiers, “we have destroyed the Germans with our guns. Now all you have to do is walk over to their trenches. There will be no opposition.” As the author shows, the results were shattering.

A beautifully crafted, blow-by-blow account with deep insight into the lives of these diverse young men.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-54519-9

Page Count: 650

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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