A masterful account of wartime skulduggery that has relevance still today.

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Taking a break with Catastrophe: 1914 (2013), veteran military historian Hastings returns to World War II with the usual entirely satisfying results.

There are plenty of excellent accounts of the war’s espionage, codebreaking, and secret operations. Hastings mentions authors, including Stephen Budiansky and David Kahn, and warns that he will cover the same ground, adding that many popular histories and almost all memoirs and even official reports from the participants are largely fiction—including the recent acclaimed film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game. The Red Army defeated Germany with modest help from the Allied Army, which, across the world, defeated Japan. Hastings disparages writers who describe a secret activity that turned the tide, but few readers will be able to resist his version of events. Hitler and Stalin scorned Britain’s armies, but, influenced by the work of Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and John Buchan, they “viewed its spies with extravagant respect, indeed cherished a belief in their omniscience” that was entirely undeserved. Money was no object in Soviet espionage. Agents penetrated the Nazi high command and all Allied government, sending back an avalanche of information that was routinely ignored. Obsessed with finding conspiracies, the paranoid Stalin distrusted everyone, foreigners most of all, and rejected findings that contradicted his beliefs. Allied codebreakers deserve the praise lavished on them, but Hastings points out that the German codebreakers were no slouches. While Bletchley Park broke enemy naval codes intermittently, Germany read British naval codes throughout the war. Hastings has little quarrel with historians who agree that resistance fighters did more to promote postwar self-respect of occupied nations than hasten Allied victory. As he notes in closing, in the digital age, “the importance to national security of intelligence, eavesdropping, codebreaking and counter-insurgency has never been greater.”

A masterful account of wartime skulduggery that has relevance still today.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-225927-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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