As riveting and revealing as a film by an Oscar winner.



Entertainment Weekly writer Harris (Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, 2008) returns with a comprehensive, cleareyed look at the careers of five legendary directors who put their Hollywood lives on freeze-frame while they went off to fight in the only ways they knew how.

“As long as they lived,” writes the author, “the war lived with them.” Arranged chronologically (beginning in 1938), the text generally includes the doings of each of the five (John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra) in each of the chapters, with Harris artfully intercutting events from his principals’ private as well as professional lives. The author also keeps us up to date on Hollywood without his five, showing us the stars who were winning Oscars, how the five felt about the winners (sometimes themselves) and how Hollywood sought to profit from the war. Harris segues seamlessly to scenes all over the world—the Aleutians, England, France, Germany, Italy, the South Pacific and other venues important in the war and in his story. We learn along the way of the involvement in various cinema projects by other considerable talents—e.g., Lillian Hellman, cinematographer Gregg Toland, Theodor Geisl, Mel Blanc and animator Chuck Jones. Some of the five worked together (Capra and Stevens), but others worked separately on feature-length documentaries, short subjects and films for military use only. Among the more enduring productions were The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress (Wyler, 1944) and the powerful, wrenching footage shot in 1945 at the liberation of Dachau by George Stevens’ crew. Stevens was devastated by what he saw and later shot The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Harris also chronicles the politics, personality clashes (military vs. Hollywood), egos, drinking, carousing and sexual exploits.

As riveting and revealing as a film by an Oscar winner.

Pub Date: March 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59420-430-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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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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