A well-researched, unsettling social history of war that will prove deeply thought-provoking—even worrying—for readers who...

THE GERMAN WAR

A NATION UNDER ARMS

The story of World War II seen through the eyes of regular German citizens. 

In this massive but thorough meditation, Stargardt (European History/Magdalen Coll., Oxford; Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis, 2005, etc.) carefully avoids fixing blame on how the war affected both the attitudes and daily lives of German citizens. Instead, the author takes a studiously clinical approach to provide a contemporary perspective on how an entire nation rose up to follow Hitler into a war of conquest and genocide. In addition to providing greatly needed context to the central problem, Stargardt also examines the long-suppressed notion that the average German citizen was under the impression that Germany was fighting “a war of national defense, forced upon them by Allied machinations and Polish aggression.” Yet the author never denies that a significant majority of the population was well-aware of the atrocities being committed in their name. “Where other historians have highlighted the machinery of mass murder, and discussed why or how the Holocaust happened, I find myself more concerned with how German society received and assimilated this knowledge as accomplished fact,” he writes. “How did it affect Germans to gradually realize they were fighting a genocidal war?” Stargardt covers this historic arc in deliberative detail, but he also knows when to dive down from the macro level to focus closely on soldiers, civilians, commanders, and victims. The author has clearly drawn on a wealth of letters and documents written at the time, and when he punches a specific line or memory at the right time, it’s chilling. Near the end of the story, he finds eerie prescience in defeat from the late journalist Ursula von Kardorff: “And when the others [Allies] come with their boundless hatred and gruesome accusations, we will have to keep quiet because they are true.”

A well-researched, unsettling social history of war that will prove deeply thought-provoking—even worrying—for readers who wonder what they might have done under the same circumstances.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-01899-4

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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