An important though uncomfortable lesson for readers who think they know the heroes and villains of World War II.

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CHURCHILL’S SECRET WAR

THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND THE RAVAGING OF INDIA DURING WORLD WAR II

A history of the 1943 Bengal famine that shows Britain and Winston Churchill in a distinctly unheroic light.

Mukerjee (Land of the Naked People: Encounters with Stone Age Islanders, 2003) reminds readers that Britain’s shock at Hitler’s 1940 blitzkrieg was matched in 1942 when Japan easily conquered Burma. Fearing invasion through nearby Bengal, Indian officials ordered the destruction of local infrastructure including warehouses, boats, bridges and roads of this vastly overpopulated area dependent on Burma for rice imports, which were now cut off. Bad weather that year reduced harvests, and grain purchases to feed the army raised prices. Famine broke out in 1943. Mukerjee quotes survivors and letters from shocked British soldiers, painting an often gruesome picture. Skeletal refugees poured into Calcutta, corpses littered the streets and the air smelled of decay. The news of the famine produced offers of food from the United States, Canada and Australia, which Britain indignantly rejected. Irritated at the Indian independence movement, Churchill accused pleading colonial officials of overreacting. The famine was India’s fault, he insisted, caused by hoarding and local corruption. Readers will squirm as the author recounts months of cabinet debates alternating with awful scenes of starvation. Churchill’s advisors assured him that ships were in short supply, and diverting food would cause shortages in Britain and Europe. Mukerjee and many historians disagree—ships and food were abundant. A better harvest and a few food shipments eased the famine in 1944, but not before several million people died.

An important though uncomfortable lesson for readers who think they know the heroes and villains of World War II.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-465-00201-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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 clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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