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YANKS BEHIND THE LINES

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

An impressive blend of painstaking historical scholarship and riveting storytelling.

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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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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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BRAVE MEN

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist (1900–45) collected his work from WWII in two bestselling volumes, this second published in 1944, a year before Pyle was killed by a sniper’s bullet on Okinawa. In his fine introduction to this new edition, G. Kurt Piehler (History/Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville) celebrates Pyle’s “dense, descriptive style” and his unusual feel for the quotidian GI experience—a personal and human side to war left out of reporting on generals and their strategies. Though Piehler’s reminder about wartime censorship seems beside the point, his biographical context—Pyle was escaping a troubled marriage—is valuable. Kirkus, at the time, noted the hoopla over Pyle (Pulitzer, hugely popular syndicated column, BOMC hype) and decided it was all worth it: “the book doesn’t let the reader down.” Pyle, of course, captures “the human qualities” of men in combat, but he also provides “an extraordinary sense of the scope of the European war fronts, the variety of services involved, the men and their officers.” Despite Piehler’s current argument that Pyle ignored much of the war (particularly the seamier stuff), Kirkus in 1944 marveled at how much he was able to cover. Back then, we thought, “here’s a book that needs no selling.” Nowadays, a firm push might be needed to renew interest in this classic of modern journalism.

Pub Date: April 26, 2001

ISBN: 0-8032-8768-2

Page Count: 513

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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