Anyone seeking to understand a complex, even bewildering part of the world will benefit from Lee’s careful account.

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AFGHANISTAN

A HISTORY FROM 1260 TO THE PRESENT

A comprehensive history of a storied nation held together by an alliance of tribal and political groups that threatens to dissolve at any moment.

Afghanistan “emerged from the collapse of three great empires,” writes British historian Lee (The “Ancient Supremacy": Bukhara, Afghanistan, and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901, 1996, etc.), that once held sway across broad stretches of Central Asia. It has famously been the graveyard of empires since, an indomitable place that has stymied armies from Britain, Russia, and now the U.S. The modern nation is an ever shifting blend of ethnic groups and traditions and efforts at power-sharing in a political entity that Lee describes as “unstable and riddled with factionalism.” By the author’s reckoning (and many other observers’), the U.S. invasion has not helped matters; instead, it has put Afghans in the familiar if uncertain position of reading the wind to see who’s in charge. For instance, Lee calls the rout of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida a pyrrhic victory since it was replaced by the “hydra-headed movement” called the Islamic State group. Previous efforts have not been much better. As the author chronicles, Indian rulers attempted to bring Afghanistan under their rule, and following them, the British, whose earliest reports from the field noted “the sectarian and ethnic tensions at court” and who later blundered into a war that saw its army suffer its worst defeat since the American Revolutionary War. For all that, Lee adds, Afghanistan has had moments of calm, including a relatively stable period of self-rule under a monarchy that lasted, “in one expression or another,” until the communist regime that came into power in 1978. Many of Afghanistan’s true modernizers, this long but well-written chronicle documents, were royals who looked westward to places like Turkey but could not replicate such elements as a well-educated managerial and officer class and a developed intelligentsia. What remains is a country that today seems unfortunately and unjustly adrift.

Anyone seeking to understand a complex, even bewildering part of the world will benefit from Lee’s careful account.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78914-010-1

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Reaktion Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers...

GRANT

A massive biography of the Civil War general and president, who “was the single most important figure behind Reconstruction.”

Most Americans know the traditional story of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885): a modest but brutal general who pummeled Robert E. Lee into submission and then became a bad president. Historians changed their minds a generation ago, and acclaimed historian Chernow (Washington: A Life, 2010, etc.), winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, goes along in this doorstop of a biography, which is admiring, intensely detailed, and rarely dull. A middling West Point graduate, Grant performed well during the Mexican War but resigned his commission, enduring seven years of failure before getting lucky. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was the only West Point graduate in the area, so local leaders gave him a command. Unlike other Union commanders, he was aggressive and unfazed by setbacks. His brilliant campaign at Vicksburg made him a national hero. Taking command of the Army of the Potomac, he forced Lee’s surrender, although it took a year. Easily elected in 1868, he was the only president who truly wanted Reconstruction to work. Despite achievements such as suppressing the Ku Klux Klan, he was fighting a losing battle. Historian Richard N. Current wrote, “by backing Radical Reconstruction as best he could, he made a greater effort to secure the constitutional rights of blacks than did any other President between Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.” Recounting the dreary scandals that soiled his administration, Chernow emphasizes that Grant was disastrously lacking in cynicism. Loyal to friends and susceptible to shady characters, he was an easy mark, and he was fleeced regularly throughout his life. In this sympathetic biography, the author continues the revival of Grant’s reputation.

At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers will regret the experience. For those seeking a shorter treatment, turn to Josiah Bunting’s Ulysses S. Grant (2004).

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59420-487-6

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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