A definitive history, gripping from start to finish but relentlessly disturbing.

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VIETNAM

AN EPIC TRAGEDY, 1945-1975

The prolific, prizewinning military historian turns his attention to the Vietnam War.

Having defeated the French after a bitter war, Vietnamese forces under Ho Chi Minh expected to govern Vietnam, but in 1954, the Geneva Conference awarded them only the northern half. Ironically, Ho’s frustration was engineered by the Soviet Union and China, whose priority was to avoid intervention from the United States. Of course, the U.S. eventually intervened. Hastings (The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945, 2016, etc.) lets no one off the hook. “In the years that followed the Geneva Accords,” he writes, “it was the misfortune of both Vietnams to fall into the hands of cruel and incompetent governments….The war that now gained momentum was one that neither side deserved to win.” The author brings his usual brilliant descriptive skills to the action, mixing individual anecdotes with big-picture considerations. Stupidity was rampant on both sides, and the North Vietnamese generalship was not immune; all combatants committed terrible atrocities. Hastings does not conceal his contempt for America’s anti-war movement. He makes a good case that fear of the draft stimulated many participants, and readers will squirm as he quotes many of its leaders’ praise of Ho and his freedom fighters. He also offers a virtuoso account of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was a disaster for the North but convinced many hawks that the war was unwinnable. Richard Nixon’s election in 1968 showed that most Americans opposed a quick withdrawal, but his cynical goal (revealed by his own tapes) was to avoid blame for the inevitable communist victory, and he achieved it. No domino fell after 1975, as a united Vietnam faded into impoverished Stalinist isolation. The sole satisfying outcome of two recent American interventions in poor nations with incompetent governments is likely to be more superb histories by Hastings.

A definitive history, gripping from start to finish but relentlessly disturbing.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-240566-1

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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