An ex-grunt's probing, painful account of coming of age in the hellfire of Vietnam. When he was drafted in 1968, Russell was more boy than man, and a fatherless boy to boot—his dad had killed himself years before. How the author amended the ``incompleteness of being that comes from growing up in a fatherless home'' is, though rarely stated, the theme of this brutal yet considered account, which spans his weeks in basic training through his year in Vietnam and his return home. The heart of Russell's story lies in his experiences with ``Suicide Charlie,'' a front-line unit that gained its nickname from its steady decimation by enemy fire. Russell writes of his trials in two ways: straight reportage that stares down suffering with cool, precise prose (``Cooked bodies do strange things. Rip open, split at the seams, detach at the joints'') and, interspersed throughout, more impressionistic, italicized passages that sometimes veer into purple (``Overhead, the surface of Mole City [an outpost of trenches dug deep in-country] is alive with devils. Flashes of light dance along...creating ghostly images that flail as if in the throes of death, or labor''). The narrative climaxes twice: on the terrible night that Mole City is overrun by NVA forces, and on the day that Russell locks eyes with a Vietnamese boy—Vietcong?—and sees their common humanity. From these tests of will and compassion, the author learns to respect his NVA enemies (``the toughest little soldiers that God ever created'') and to realize that his real job isn't to win the war but to survive. Yet when offered a transfer, Russell sticks with Suicide Charlie, recognizing that loyalty is one value that makes life worth living. And so he grows to be a man and, later, to be a father to his own son, Shannon. Among the more memorable of Vietnam reminiscences, at times as piercing as a splinter in the soul.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-275-94521-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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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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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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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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