A first-rate addition to the military history canon.




A military history about the central fact of all wars: death in battle.

Stephenson (Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought, 2007) begins with the prehistoric era, when warfare consisted of clashes between hunting tribes. Not surprisingly, early tactics were closely allied to the techniques of hunting: ambush of lone enemies or small bands, with little of what we think of as military strategy. That approach to warfare has survived into modern times, especially in conflicts where the resources of the forces involved are disproportionate, as in colonial or insurgent wars. What we would recognize as battles between organized armies arose with civilization, and from the beginning a distinction was made between weapons that strike from a distance and those requiring contact with the enemy: arrows versus swords, for example. Stephenson traces the tension between the modes of warfare dictated by these weapons, and their effect on combatants, working from both archaeological evidence and written sources. The result is a far-reaching overview of the visceral experience of soldiers in battle. The description of wounds is graphic; patriotic propaganda to the contrary, death in warfare is rarely sweet or decorous. Some widely held beliefs about what kills men in war may need revision; artillery, rather than machine guns, was the main killer in World War I, for example, and booby traps and mines have dominated American casualty lists since Vietnam. Stephenson includes close looks at the soldier’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and offers the viewpoints of German, Russian and even a few Japanese soldiers in the World War II sections. An interesting appendix covers the development of military medicine. Throughout the book, the author is evenhanded, clear and consistently illuminating; even those well-read in military history are likely to learn something new.

A first-rate addition to the military history canon.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-39584-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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