An intriguing spy biography that ably demonstrates how fierce adherence to an ideology can lead to human suffering on terms...

THE DANGEROUS OTTO KATZ

THE MANY LIVES OF A SOVIET SPY

A talented and seductive spy pops up in places as diverse as Hollywood, Prague, Paris and Mexico City, organizing anti-Nazi, pro-Communist propaganda before dangling at the end of a hangman’s noose in 1952.

Miles (The Wreck of the Medusa: The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century, 2007, etc.) presents a complicated tale of espionage, human cruelty, war and retribution. The author begins in 1952 when Noël Coward, one of Katz’s numerous celebrity acquaintances, discovered that Katz, having outlived his usefulness, was on trial for treason in Prague. After dealing swiftly with this classic Communist-era show trial, Miles returns to 1895 and the birth of the Jewish Katz in southern Bohemia. The author digs up what he can (not much) on Katz’s boyhood and education, showing how he fell in love with socialism in his mid-teens, got caught up in Prague’s theater and art world, met Kafka and began to come of age. A handsome, slick operator, he was soon at work in publications and propaganda. Along the way he associated with some of the era’s most notable writers, artists and actors, including Dietrich, Koestler, Dos Passos, Hemingway and many others. Security services in France, England and the United States were watching him, though never very efficiently. His multiple aliases, smooth demeanor and celebrity connections seemed to shield him from surveillance. Miles properly credits him for exposing the cruelties of the Nazis, and he also charts Katz’s growing discomfort with the brutalities of Stalin—though he stayed ever loyal to the Communist Party. The author also suggests that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy and that Britain’s MI5 comprised a collection of bungling boobs.

An intriguing spy biography that ably demonstrates how fierce adherence to an ideology can lead to human suffering on terms both intimate and global.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59691-661-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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