Why one group of young men chose not to go to war, as told in their own words. By interviewing only conscientious objectors who took a legal route to evade the Vietnam War rather than those who simply dodged the draft, Tollefson (English/University of Washington) defuses the sort of hindsight criticism that threatened to derail Bill Clinton's campaign. The author's ``sample'' is broad, though not scientific, and includes a Roman Catholic seminarian; sons of men who served with distinction in WW II; leftists; conservatives; Jews; Lutherans—nearly every kind of American male to be found at the time. Twenty-odd years after the event, these men's words tend to share a detached tranquility—one to some extent depersonalized because no names or even pseudonyms are attached to the oral testimony, preventing readers from following the development of any one particular case. The excerpts are arranged chronologically— some as short as a paragraph, others several pages long—and grouped into five sections: ``Deciding Not to Fight''; ``Trial and Imprisonment''; ``Serving My Country''; ``A Country Not My Own''; and ``Making Peace.'' From these examples, we learn that the peace of mind that came for many COs upon their fateful decision was generally followed by harrowing, often hellish, experiences as local draft boards and law-enforcement agencies routinely insulted, humiliated, and brutalized the men for acting upon dictates of conscience. (It seems that the CO experience has changed little since the WW II days detailed in Charles Shipman's It Had to be Revolution, p. 442.) Those who served in the war in noncombatant roles had different experiences—but usually demeaning ones as well. The process by which many COs, so harshly defined as inadequate and shameful by their fellows, worked their way back to a condition of social acceptance makes for compelling, if uncomfortable, reading. Quiet, simple, disturbing: An invaluable contribution to the cultural history of the 60's.

Pub Date: July 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-316-85112-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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