A fresh perspective on the trials of war and the power of books.




How books raised spirits during World War II.

In 1941, the American Army faced the challenge of training hastily convened troops and amassing basic supplies to wage an extensive war in Europe. Soon, the Army discovered another serious challenge: low morale. Far from home, cut off from family and friends, fearful and stressed, the new conscripts longed for distraction. “What the Army needed,” writes attorney Manning (The Myth of Ephraim Tutt: Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax, 2012) in this intriguing history, “was some form of recreation that was small, popular, and affordable. It needed books.” Financial straits made buying books impossible, so librarians volunteered to mount a book drive. In the first two years, the Victory Book Campaign received 6.6 million volumes, not all appropriate for young men. Knitting books and children’s literature, for example, were sent elsewhere or pulped. Despite complaints that hardcover books were too large and heavy to carry, books proved so popular that the Army decided to take over, establishing the Council on Books in Wartime. Its first project was publishing 50,000 copies each of 50 titles in small, lightweight paperback editions. A staff of readers made recommendations, and the council noted any that might “give aid and comfort to the enemy, conflict with the spirit of American democracy, or be offensive to any religious or racial groups, trades, or professions.” Despite these guidelines, more than 1,200 selections were sent to soldiers and Navy men, including novels (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a great favorite), mysteries, Westerns, adventure stories, biographies, poetry and a host of other genres. Manning includes a book list as an appendix. Many soldiers were so moved by what they read that they started a correspondence with authors; for some soldiers, the books were their first introduction to literature of any kind and inspired their enrollment in higher education, supported by the GI Bill, after the war.

A fresh perspective on the trials of war and the power of books.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0544535022

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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