The brisk true story of a jailbreak so bizarre it might rate an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

THE CONFIDENCE MEN

HOW TWO PRISONERS OF WAR ENGINEERED THE MOST REMARKABLE ESCAPE IN HISTORY

A journalist reconstructs the brazen exploits of two World War I prisoners of war who faked mental illness to escape from “the Alcatraz of its day.”

Situated amid the barren Anatolian mountains, Turkey’s Yozgad prison camp was so remote that no barbed wire surrounded it; authorities considered it “escape-proof.” The world learned otherwise from an outlandish plot devised by Elias Henry Jones, an Oxford-educated British officer taken prisoner when his country surrendered after the siege of Kut-al-Amara, which had left his compatriots foraging desperately for food: “Hedgehog fried in axle grease was surprisingly palatable. Stray dogs found their way onto the table.” Jones teamed with Cedric Waters Hill, a downed Australian pilot whose earlier work as a magician helped the pair refine an ingenious scheme. They used a handmade Ouija board, fake seances, and other types of “spooking” to persuade the camp commandant that he could find gold buried at Yozgad if they left the camp to learn its location from distant “spirits.” After he agreed, they feigned madness in a Constantinople insane asylum and sought repatriation for medical reasons. Fox tells a brisk story filled with colorful background on the magic, spiritualism, and psychiatry of the day. What’s unclear is why Jones and Hill went to such extraordinary lengths to escape when, for prisoners, they passed the time in what Jones described in his memoir as “comparative ease.” They lived in houses with gardens; they could receive mail; and their Ottoman captors paid salaries to British officers. While other POWs’ narratives have shown that captives’ reasons for escaping can range from a desire to avoid torture to a will to bear witness to prison horrors, Fox provides little compelling evidence that such factors drove her heroes. Jones and Hill showed remarkable daring, but their motives remain elusive in a tale that, despite its title, is more plot- than character-driven.

The brisk true story of a jailbreak so bizarre it might rate an entry in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984853-84-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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