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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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