Gripping from start to finish, with reflections on the price that soldiers pay for their commanders’ war agendas.

BLOOD IN THE WATER

HOW THE US AND ISRAEL CONSPIRED TO AMBUSH THE USS LIBERTY

Historical research leads to some unsettling assertions about a violent incident shrouded in secrecy for over 50 years.

The attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War, left 34 dead and 174 wounded, along with myriad unresolved questions even after Israel admitted responsibility, claiming it had acted in error. This book represents a massive undertaking whereby Mellen (English Emerita/Temple Univ.; Faustian Bargains, 2016, etc.) systematically and persuasively dismantles the narratives espoused for decades by reviewing official documents, evaluating publications, and conducting personal interviews. Disturbingly, the author’s solid research indicates that the United States and Israel collaborated in planning, executing, and covering up this operation in order to implicate Egypt, bomb Cairo, and precipitate Gamal Abdel Nasser’s downfall. The author astutely points out that it wouldn’t be the first time the American government resorted to such tactics, citing the Maine in 1898 and the Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. She also contextualizes the Liberty incident amid “the hothouse of 1967,” signaling the Cold War’s paranoia and brinksmanship together with the Vietnam War escalation and oil supply concerns. To Mellen’s credit, her clear writing style and organizational abilities allow even readers unfamiliar with the events of the time to become engrossed in technical details, political intrigue, the military chain of command, and personal stories. Against all odds, through many sailors’ concerted efforts, the Liberty managed to stay afloat despite a torpedo hit and send an SOS signal. The author darkly claims: “The survival of the ship was unanticipated by those in highest authority.” The details of the attack are both gruesome and necessary, underscoring the sacrifice by the Liberty crew. The heroes include Dr. Richard Kiepfer, himself severely injured, who “remained on his feet for the next twenty-eight hours” and “performed surgeries and blood transfusions through the night,” and electronics technician Terence Halbardier, who was wounded while scrambling under fire across the deck to connect a cable that allowed the SOS call to go out. Indeed, one of the more sobering scenarios is that American planes “equipped with nuclear warheads” were seven minutes away from bombing Cairo, perhaps escalating the conflict to the brink of World War III, but were called off when the ship’s distress signal was heard. Extensive endnotes contain many intriguing tidbits, such as the moment when Mellen wonders whether military personnel would be more forthcoming with a different interviewer. Referring to a key witness who read communication transcripts in real time during the incident, she admits: “Still, he was uncomfortable with sharing his experience with a civilian author (female) of an unknown political persuasion.” Finally, she deftly examines questionable decisions made by authorities in the immediate aftermath of the attack and in the present day as survivors struggle with mistreatment at the hands of the military bureaucracy and American government. At the end of this impressive work, the author boldly lists those she holds responsible for the strike, including familiar names like Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert McNamara, Cyrus Vance, John S. McCain, and Moshe Dayan.

Gripping from start to finish, with reflections on the price that soldiers pay for their commanders’ war agendas.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63388-464-9

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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