A readable, illuminating discussion of the role of books and ideas—and their sometimes strange originators—in the making of...

Hell hath no fury like a communist converted—and, more so, one who knows how to wield a typewriter.

In this lively, bookish tale, medievalist, retired Princeton professor and—importantly for this story—amateur bookbinder Fleming examines the curious careers of four fellow travelers whose conversions away from the cause occasioned once-important books. As the author notes at the outset, their anti-communism means, in the broadest sense, opposition not to socialism but to Stalinism, brought on by personal betrayals and intrigues on one hand and the appalling spectacle of show trials, purges and the Nazi-Soviet concordat on the other. Each of these writers had a checkered career. The Hungarian journalist Arthur Koestler, possibly the best known of them internationally, was a “polymath intellectual,” but also a “serial rapist,” according to former British socialist intellectual Richard Crossman, the editor of The God That Failed (1950), a significant antecedent to Fleming’s book. Whittaker Chambers, famed in the days of McCarthy and company, sheltered a whole host of neuroses and ugly secrets. Fleming’s other case studies were well known in their day but hardly mentioned or remembered now. A German Communist named Richard Krebs, writing as Jan Valtin, penned the bestselling exposé Out of the Night (1941) while nursing a reputation as a “professional thug” and former San Quentin inmate, while Victor Kravchenko, a Soviet engineer, brought adeptness at “dishonest servility and self-preserving self-centeredness” across the waters to America. Each wrote books that helped turn the tide away from viewing the Soviet Union as an erstwhile ally and toward considering it a voracious, empire-hungry bear with an appetite for American babies. Perhaps the most interesting was Kravchenko, whose book I Chose Freedom (1946) was popular enough that he was pitching a “rather vague plan” to his publisher by way of an anti-Stalinist franchise—a perfect huckster, in other words, for any time.

A readable, illuminating discussion of the role of books and ideas—and their sometimes strange originators—in the making of political crusades.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06925-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009


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


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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