An accidentally timely rejoinder to Robert McNamara's recently published memoir. Historian Gardner (Rutgers; Spheres of Influence, 1993, etc.) traces the trajectory of the Vietnam War from a small-scale police action to a full-scale (but undeclared) conflict, showing how its conduct coincided with Lyndon Johnson's attachment to New Dealera programs meant to improve the lives of the downtrodden. Johnson's making the war an international expression of Great Society ideals of freedom and prosperity, Gardner demonstrates, introduced entangling political elements into a military problem and cast a certain unreality on the whole affair: ``If one could go to the moon,'' Gardner imagines a loyalist reasoning, ``and if one could help grandma with new medical miracles, surely it would be possible to convince Ho Chi Minh to accept a dam on the Mekong River instead of a residence in Saigon.'' Manipulated by Rusk and McNamara, Johnson consistently valued bad advice over good, believing that his schemes of regional economic development would bear him out as a savior of the world's oppressed. So strong was this conviction that an advisor said, ``The president is prepared to stake everything on this vision of what we can bring about in Southeast Asia''whether Southeast Asia asked for it or not. The well-known result of the president's hubristic gamble was disastrous: civil unrest and the erosion of confidence in the American way of life, to say nothing of a military defeat far from home. And, as the protagonist in Robert Stone's novel Dog Soldiers puts it, ``What a bummer for the gooks.'' Gardner's suggestion that Vietnam was in some measure a moral drama played out in the dark recesses of LBJ's conscience is an intriguing, controversial contribution to the ongoing debate on the war, one that he backs up with thorough research and sound scholarship.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56663-087-8

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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