An accomplished study of a battle that figures in all the standard WWII textbooks but is rarely given much more than a...



A careful reconstruction of the Allied campaign, throughout the winter of 1943–44, to break the Nazi hold on southern Italy.

Veterans of Okinawa and Stalingrad may not endorse the subtitle, but the campaign to take the hilltop fortress of Monte Cassino was supremely bloody; as the British comedian Spike Milligan wrote to his parents from the battlefront, “I’m writing this in a hole in the ground, it’s convenient, because if you get killed, they just fill the hole in.” British editor and writer Parker (The Battle of Britain, not reviewed) writes that the mile-high summit of Cassino commanded the only readily negotiable route to Rome, and invaders would have to pass within range of the German guns that crowned the Cassino Massif. Ideal ground for those who possessed it—as Parker notes, it was “considered one of the finest defensive positions in Europe”—Cassino also boasted a vast sixth-century monastery whose walls were 20 feet thick at the base. The Allies enjoyed tremendous material superiority; one German paratroop officer remembers seeing “an unbroken stream of Allied tanks and vehicles . . . flowing westward” across the Liri River valley and wondering how anyone could stand up to such odds. But for all the cannons and planes the Allies commanded, uprooting thousands of crack German troops from Cassino had to be accomplished one by one, hand to hand—since, as Parker notes, the Allied air assaults that destroyed the monastery “had merely created ruins in which the defender had the advantage.” The Allied ground attack was accomplished by a truly international force, with equal-opportunity slaughter; among Parker’s finest moments is his account of ill-fated Indian and Maori units chewed up by German machine-gun and mortar fire. The battle, Parker concludes, was disorganized, politicized, and needlessly bloody; had Gen. Mark Clark blocked the earlier German evacuation of Sicily, he suggests, there would have been no crack paratroops to defend Cassino at the start.

An accomplished study of a battle that figures in all the standard WWII textbooks but is rarely given much more than a mention.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-50985-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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