Best for readers who yearn for Saving Private Ryan–like morality plays. Anyone seeking a comprehensive treatment of the...



In this general historical survey, Ray attempts to explain to contemporary readers why his generation fought WWII.

After comparing each nation’s military, economic, and political circumstances during the inter-war years, Ray argues that a general mood of appeasement in France and Britain enabled Hitler to make escalating demands for territorial concessions. War followed after Hitler went too far by invading Poland. Moving from the European theater to the Middle East and the Pacific, Ray shows how each nation became involved in the conflict. Extensive treatments of combined arms tactics, strategic bombing campaigns, as well as submarine, air, and tank warfare demonstrate the specific considerations that shaped leaders’ decisions about the war. Ray uses the postwar settlements to foreshadow the growing antagonism between the Soviet Union and the US. One must wonder, however, if Ray’s survey explains why people fought the war. Because he focuses on the actions of war leaders, it is difficult to understand why ordinary people participated in the conflict. Furthermore, the racial motivations of the antagonists are hardly mentioned. Hitler is rightly treated as an anti-Semitic warmonger, but the motivations of the millions of Germans who pursued the Third Reich’s goals are never investigated. The Holocaust is relegated to two pages in an appendix, as if it had little to do with German war aims, and important issues (such as Americans’ racial hatred of the Japanese or the Russian abhorrence of the German enemy) are not mentioned. Ray justifies the release of atomic weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the chestnut: “War is no party.” Moreover, the firebombing of Dresden is rationalized with the pronouncement that “international conflict is no picnic.” These exclusions and simplistic explanations leave the impression that the Axis powers were the only ones with their hands dirty, that the war was about, as Ray puts it, “men fighting for basic good against basic evil.”

Best for readers who yearn for Saving Private Ryan–like morality plays. Anyone seeking a comprehensive treatment of the course and consequences WWII should look elsewhere.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-304-35303-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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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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