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

THE ANTI-COMMUNIST MANIFESTOS

FOUR BOOKS THAT SHAPED THE COLD WAR

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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