An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

YANKS BEHIND THE LINES

HOW THE COMMISSION FOR RELIEF IN BELGIUM SAVED MILLIONS FROM STARVATION DURING WORLD WAR I

A historical work focuses on the massive humanitarian effort designed to feed a Belgian population starving under German occupation during World War I.

In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium on its way to France, a remarkably brazen violation of the nation’s avowed neutrality. The occupation that ensued was an unmerciful one—factories and coal mines were shuttered; the harvest was largely destroyed; and whatever provisions were available were commandeered by German soldiers. As the first winter approached, it was increasingly possible that a considerable swath of the Belgian population—and many civilians in Northern France, too—faced starvation. Miller chronicles, with the granular precision of an investigative journalist, a brilliant effort to urgently usher supplies to the Belgian people, “one of America’s finest hours in humanitarian aid.” Two collaborative organizations were born—the Commission for Relief in Belgium, founded in London and headed by Herbert Hoover, and the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation, established in Brussels and led by Émile Francqui, a business tycoon. The CRB bought and transported the food by ship to Rotterdam while the CN prepared and distributed it. The two sister agencies grappled with myriad obstacles—the British opposed the program because it broke its blockade of German shipments; vessels were hard to find; and the political hurdles were extraordinary, all meticulously documented by the author. The Germans only acquiesced because they thought a better fed citizenry would be more docile and easier to control. Miller brings a complex story to vivid life, astutely explaining the political and cultural landscape of Belgium but also the unfolding of the conflict. The author even accounts for the ways in which the CRB, in particular Hoover, contributed to America’s entry into the war. This is a powerful work of history, as informative as it is dramatically gripping.

An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5381-4163-2

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA

An epistolary memoir of Nelson Mandela’s prison years.

From August 1962 to February 1990, Mandela (1918-2013) was imprisoned by the apartheid state of South Africa. During his more than 27 years in prison, the bulk of which he served on the notorious Robben Island prison off the shores of Cape Town, he wrote thousands of letters to family and friends, lawyers and fellow African National Congress members, prison officials, and members of the government. Heavily censored for both content and length, letters from Robben Island and South Africa’s other political prisons did not always reach their intended targets; when they did, the censorship could make them virtually unintelligible. To assemble this vitally important collection, Venter (A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, 2006, etc.), a longtime Johannesburg-based editor and journalist, pored through these letters in various public and private archives across South Africa and beyond as well as Mandela’s own notebooks, in which he transcribed versions of these letters. The result is a necessary, intimate portrait of the great leader. The man who emerges is warm and intelligent and a savvy, persuasive, and strategic thinker. During his life, Mandela was a loving husband and father, a devotee of the ANC’s struggle, and capable of interacting with prominent statesmen and the ANC’s rank and file. He was not above flattery or hard-nosed steeliness toward his captors as suited his needs, and he was always yearning for freedom, not only—or even primarily—for himself, but rather for his people, a goal that is the constant theme of this collection and was the consuming vision of his entire time as a prisoner. Venter adds tremendous value with his annotations and introductions to the work as a whole and to the book’s various sections.

A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-117-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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