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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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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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.


A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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