Suspenseful, sketchy and somewhat vulgar—these accounts render no one’s finest hour.




Dramatic, sordid recap of the most horrendous closing moments of World War II, which “began with the murder of Mussolini and ended with the news that Hitler had killed himself at his bunker in Berlin.”

There is a sensational element to this work by British journalist Best (The Greatest Day in History, 2008), narrated alongside frank, graphic primary accounts. The author covers the action over five decisive days at the closing of the war, beginning with Apr. 28, 1945, when Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were shot, driven to Milan and strung up for ghastly display. On the 30th, inside the Chancellery in Berlin, Hitler shot himself while his brand-new wife Eva Braun ingested a poison pill, leaving Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as successor in command. As the fighting raged to the last man at the Reichstag, and Russians raped German women and killed indiscriminately, SS head Heinrich Himmler separately sent out conciliatory messages to the British and Americans, generating wild rumors in the Western press. After the bunker suicides and clumsy burning of the bodies, the remnant staff planned their escape through the blasted streets of Berlin. The news of Hitler’s suicide made Stalin’s May Day celebrations in Moscow; the Americans were dropping food supplies over Holland for the starving residents as part of Operation Chowhound; Private Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, eagerly deserted his post with the “liberation” of Munich by the Americans and headed home; and Hamburg was declared an open city on May 1 by Gauleiter Kaufmann, acting on his own initiative. In addition to engaging suspense, Best provides plenty of moments of prurience—e.g., orgies in the bunker’s dentist chair; the looting of Eva Braun’s knickers by the first Russian visitors.

Suspenseful, sketchy and somewhat vulgar—these accounts render no one’s finest hour.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-61492-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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