A bracing corrective for a literature recently dominated by Ambrose, Brokaw, and other cheerleaders, and just right for a...




Brief, wholly memorable essays—sometimes little more than vignettes—on a season in hell.

Not for literary historian and combat veteran Fussell (Veterans, 2002, etc.) all this talk of “the greatest generation” and the mawkish military romanticism that has settled on WWII: the young men, many scarcely more than boys, who fought against the formidable German enemy in places like Normandy and the Hürtgen Forest were a “reluctant draftee army,” their deeds usually less heroic than desperate. Building on his fine memoir Doing Battle (1996), Fussell explores the lives and actions of those boys, “who bitched freely, but seldom cried, even when wounded.” Among the themes he explores, at the length of a few pages or paragraphs, are the widespread dislike for the young Americans among British civilians, who famously complained that they were “overpaid, oversexed, and over here,” and even among the liberated French, “who didn’t at all appreciate the immense black market in Paris run by over two thousand American deserters”; the extraordinary, and underreported, rate of desertion among those boys, traumatized by battle settings straight out of the Grimm Brothers and the constant presence of ignoble death; the carnage of battle in places like the Falaise Pocket, where, Dwight Eisenhower recalled, “It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh” (to which Fussell, ever the curmudgeon, adds, “And Eisenhower is gentleman enough not to offend . . . by dwelling on the smell”); and the general insanity of war and its fighters, torn between the “quite contradictory operations” of trying to kill some people with the greatest efficiency while trying to save others to the same high standards. Throughout, Fussell writes vividly and sardonically, sounding like the spiritual twin of Kurt Vonnegut at some points and an aggrieved Julius Caesar at others, and painting extraordinary scenes at every turn.

A bracing corrective for a literature recently dominated by Ambrose, Brokaw, and other cheerleaders, and just right for a new season of war.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2003

ISBN: 0-679-64088-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2003

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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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