Sometimes Steinbeckian in texture and bite, but often tone-deaf, tendentious and surpassingly sad.

STEINBECK IN VIETNAM

DISPATCHES FROM THE WAR

A collection of the pro-war pieces filed from Southeast Asia for Newsday by the Nobel laureate not long before his death.

Editor Barden, a Vietnam veteran and professor (English/Univ. of Toledo; editor: Virginia Folk Legends, 1991, etc.), mostly lets Steinbeck speak for himself in this motley collection of columns that the author framed in the form of letters to Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, the deceased editor and publisher of Newsday, whose husband was continuing in her stead. Barden sandwiches Steinbeck’s columns between an introduction and afterword and intrudes in the text with only a handful of parenthetical explanations—reminding us, for example, who Lurleen Wallace was. Between December 1966 and May 1967, Steinbeck filed pieces that sought to support the U.S. effort in Vietnam, to lionize the soldiers whom he met (and with whom he occasionally ducked incoming rounds), to expose the dimensions of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese violence against civilians, to chide the liberal media for ingesting without question the enemy’s propaganda and to urge other writers (he names Updike, Williams, Bellow, Albee and Miller) to travel to Vietnam to see the war firsthand. Steinbeck did not just sit in Saigon and bloviate; he went to various sites around the country and flew in helicopters and, in one case, the plane dubbed Puff the Magic Dragon, a night mission that frightened him, prompting him to write of mortality. He also offers some tactical suggestions that seem bizarre and naïve: dropping thousands of transistor radios (with earplugs) via paper parachutes over the countryside so rural people could hear the truth; training Saigon street urchins for espionage. Steinbeck’s positions later softened, but not in the pages of Newsday.

Sometimes Steinbeckian in texture and bite, but often tone-deaf, tendentious and surpassingly sad.

Pub Date: March 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8139-3257-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Virginia

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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