Historical hindsight is always 20/20, as this otherwise thoughtful and well-written comparative biography of two important Civil War commanders shows. On the surface, the lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the North and Edward Porter Alexander of the South have little in common. Alexander was a career officer, educated at West Point; Chamberlain was a citizen soldier who taught rhetoric in college before volunteering to fight. Alexander was born on a Virginia plantation; Chamberlain came from rock-ribbed Maine. Beneath these superficial differences, however, Golay (The Civil War, not reviewed) maintains that more united these men than divided them. Both fought in some of the major engagements of the Civil War, and though neither ever rose above middle-level commands, they enjoyed the ear of those more powerful, exerting an influence beyond their rank. Both reached the critical point of their careers at Gettysburg, where Chamberlain's bold defense of Little Round Top arguably saved the battle for the Union, while Alexander's confusion concerning orders and battle strategy led to the disastrous Pickett's charge. Following the war, both men went on to civilian success. Chamberlain became president of Bowdoin College and governor of Maine. Alexander was a successful railroad executive. But neither man, argues Golay—making use of their personal papers and writings—ever escaped his past. The two had found their greatest fulfillment and their true mÇtier as soldiers in the Civil War, and they both wrote and lectured extensively about their experiences. But the author occasionally judges his subjects with the wisdom of hindsight, as when he claims that the men never really understood the respective causes for which they fought (Alexander thought the war was an inevitable part of the country's evolution; Chamberlain viewed war as, Golay says, ``a test of character''). A riveting portrait of two men who felt they had outlived their historical moment.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1994

ISBN: 0-517-59285-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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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