OVERLORD

From Russell Weigley's solid Eisenhower's Lieutenants (1980) to John Keegan's tour-de-force Six Armies in Normandy (1982) to Carlo D'Este's microscopic Decision in Normandy (1983), recent writings have shot down the "chauvinist legends" Hastings decries. His contribution is no less noteworthy: "It seems fruitless to consider whether an Allied plan or maneuver was sound in abstract terms. The critical question, surely, was whether it was capable of being carried out by the available Allied forces, given their limitations and the extraordinary skill of their enemies." Hastings (Bomber Command) has interviewed both Allied and German Veterans. Col. Heinz Guderian: "There was no alternative but to keep one's nerve." Brigadier Bill Williams: "The Germans liked soldiering. We didn't." He is mindful of the issues—Montgomery's failed "plan," American vs. British performance, could the Germans have prevailed?—and thorough and sensitive in his judgments. Montgomery's error was never to admit error, never to acknowledge failure—thus forfeiting trust; but he had, correspondingly, "the iron will to persevere." By resisting political pressure for results, he averted "a British bloodbath." And could he "have been sacked. . .without inflicting an intolerable blow to British national confidence?" Detailed treatment of the near-catastrophic American assault on Omaha beach scores V Corps commander Gerew for hubris (in eschewing "tactical subtleties, the use of British specialized armour, and any attempt to seize the five vital beach exits by maneuver"), pronounces the day saved only by "the men on the sand." Similar detailing of the British failure to secure Caen finds the expectation unrealistic, troop performance sluggish or muddled. Overall: "The Allied armies discovered the limits of what metal alone could achieve"; "It ill became either army. . .to harp upon the shortcomings of the other." (But—in answer to Clifford Irving and Anthony Cave Brown—the Germans couldn't have won.) Additional points, from D-Day to Cherbourg to the Falaise gap: the crucial advantage of surprise (and German indecision) lost by vehicle pile-up on the beaches, the inability to move up tanks and gain momentum; "the superiority of almost all [German] weapons in quality, if not in quantity"; the tenacity and resilience of less-than-elite German troops; the shooting of prisoners by the Allies as well as the Germans ("among scores of Allied witnesses interviewed. . .almost every one had direct knowledge. . ."); the difference between the American COBRA breakout and the British GOODWOOD failure—against an unbroken German front, tanks (without men) were unavailing. The book has, finally, two moving, chilling effects. It presents the infantry soldier, "locked in battle," in the image of Passchendaele. And it suggests that, were Soviet troops ever to sweep across Europe, "the level of sacrifice and endurance displayed by the Allies" in Normandy wouldn't suffice to defeat them. But it's the intricate mesh of theme and experience—Brigadier Williams wondering, early on, "To what extent would these chaps make a good showing despite Hitler?"—that gives Hastings' work exceptional force.

Pub Date: June 6, 1984

ISBN: 0671554352

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984

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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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