Among the plethora of brilliant accounts of this period, this is one of the best.

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CATASTROPHE 1914

EUROPE GOES TO WAR

Does the world need another book on that dismal year? Absolutely, if it’s by Hastings (Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945, 2011, etc.). After many accounts of World War II, the veteran military historian tries his hand, with splendid results.

Most readers will be familiar with many of the facts. When Austria mobilized to take revenge on Serbia for its role in the June 1914 murder of Archduke Ferdinand, Russia protested. Austria’s ally, Germany, warned it to keep its hands off. Russia’s response was only mildly threatening, but it wasn’t mild enough for the pugnacious German general staff. Deciding war was inevitable, they convinced a dithering kaiser, and the dominoes fell. Who’s to blame? Hastings loves Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 classic The Guns of August but agrees that her verdict—everything got out of hand; it was no one’s fault—is passé. Hastings shows modest respect for the German school, which blames Germany; historian Sean McMeekin, who emphasizes Russia's role; and even Niall Ferguson, who believes that Britain should have remained neutral. He concludes that national leaders (mediocrities all, with a few frank dimwits) focused with paranoid intensity on selfish interests, that stupidity trumped malevolence, and that German paranoia won by a nose. World War I historians deplore the slaughter at the Somme and Verdun, but these pale in comparison to the final months of 1914, when modern weapons mowed down armies who still marched in dense masses led by mounted officers with colors flying and bands playing. Readers accustomed to Hastings’ vivid battle descriptions, incisive anecdotes from all participants, and shrewd, often unsettling opinions will not be disappointed.

Among the plethora of brilliant accounts of this period, this is one of the best.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-59705-2

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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