A thoughtful re-examination of the causal agents that move history.


Why Leaders Fight

An exacting analysis of the way state leaders influence geopolitical events and, in turn, history at large.

For some years, leadership was widely discounted as a determinant in international affairs, dismissed in favor of institutional or structural factors. Authors Elis (a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan), Horowitz (Political Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Diffusion of Military Power, 2010), and Stam (Democracies at War, 2010)—all experienced scholars with a collective background in political science, public policy, and government—argue that the impact of leaders has been too hastily neglected: “It is easy to take the role of leaders for granted, seeing them constrained by circumstances, by the international and domestic political contexts in which they operate.” To this end, they compile an exhaustive data set on world leaders called Leader Experience and Attribute Descriptions. Drawing from behavioral psychology, which connects the decisions someone makes and his or her personal history, the authors assess a wide array of biographical concerns including gender, childhood wealth, education, parentage, military service, and age, among many others. They also devote special attention to the elements that potentially contribute to a leader’s response to risk of both the economic and military varieties. Ultimately, they believe that while even the most powerful leaders are saddled with constraints, they still influence world events as much as anything else. Examining a host of historical leaders, including Winston Churchill, Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, and some obscure ones as well, the authors advance an even more fundamental philosophical argument—history is finally shaped by people, not merely impersonal historical forces. The prose is consistently lucid, and the research is a model of scrupulous investigation. Also, the book manages to evince a willingness to buck long-standing convention without using strident rhetoric. One quibble: the authors often take issue with the preference many scholars have for systematic modeling over a more nuanced appreciation of personal idiosyncrasy; however, they never address the potential problem that LEAD attempts to reduce human agency to precisely the same kind of predictive modeling. Nonetheless, this is a valuable contribution to the study of leadership and international relations in general.

A thoughtful re-examination of the causal agents that move history.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-107-02293-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2015

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


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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