A lively biography of an opportunist, traitor, and patriot.




A Hollywood mover and shaker takes center stage in a brisk tale of spies and counterspies.

Russian-born Boris Morros (1891-1963) arrived in the U.S. in 1922, determined to hone his musical background into a career in his adopted home. By the 1930s, despite the exigencies of the Great Depression, he rose to become the musical director of Paramount Studios, socializing with movie moguls—most of whom, like him, were Jewish émigrés—and Hollywood royalty. Gill (American History and Culture; Univ. of Amsterdam; Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History From Dutch Village to Capital of Black America, 2011) creates a well-rounded portrait of a man who was an unlikely spy and, later, an FBI counterspy. Morros, writes the author, “was ideologically uncommitted, constitutionally discreet, addicted to fame and money, and oblivious to the distinction between truth and fiction,” traits that enabled him to survive purges, betrayals, and precarious Soviet politics. In midcentury, Gill discovered, the U.S. was “thoroughly penetrated by foreign spies.” Although America had a handful of agents in the Soviet Union, Soviet spies “infiltrated virtually every federal agency,” including the White House; in addition, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “contained 120 hidden Soviet microphones.” Morros was tasked with providing cover jobs for Soviet agents, in Hollywood or with business associates elsewhere. Although he later portrayed himself as a frightened victim, in fact he bargained with his handlers to seek protection for family members still in the Soviet Union. Finally, when he realized that many relatives had been killed by the secret police, Morros resolved to get revenge. In July 1947, he called the FBI. During a week of questioning, he revealed his life story to the agency that had been on his trail since the mid-1930s. Hoping to avoid execution as a traitor, Morros found, to his relief, that the agency instead invited him to switch sides. “When do I start?” he answered. In a narrative that reads like an espionage thriller, Gill follows his subject’s peripatetic travels and interactions with malevolent, powerful—and sometimes bumbling—characters.

A lively biography of an opportunist, traitor, and patriot.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4009-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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