“Beware the beginnings,” admonishes a German proverb. This noteworthy book is a chilling compendium of warning signs, past...

WHY?

EXPLAINING THE HOLOCAUST

How could a civilized nation have brought a self-professed racist and xenophobe to power and then stood by as millions were murdered? It’s not a mystery, according to this important overview of the Shoah.

It does not do, Hayes (Emeritus, Holocaust Studies/Northwestern Univ.; From Cooperation to Complicity: Degussa in the Third Reich, 2007, etc.) notes at the outset, to confront the Holocaust and its legacy of genocide and terror with words like “incomprehensible” and “unfathomable.” Such words amount to “an assertion of the speaker’s innocence—of his or her incapacity not only to conceive of such horror but to enact anything like it.” The German-speaking world was full of such supposed innocents, who protested that they knew nothing of it but enabled and participated in the system all the same. The Holocaust, writes the author, is eminently knowable: “it was the work of humans acting on familiar human weaknesses and motives: wounded pride, fear, self-righteousness, prejudice, and personal ambition being among the most obvious.” Proceeding from the provocative question, “why another book on the Holocaust?”—the entire book is a careful answer to it—Hayes examines precipitating events and conditions, such as a long European tradition of scapegoating and anti-Semitism given new weight by the horrors of World War I. He looks into the participation of sectors of society that normally are not singled out in such accounts, such as the collusion of the German pharmaceutical industry in developing the mechanisms for mass death, and he delves into some particularly thorny questions—e.g., the old saw, “Why didn’t more Jews fight back more often?” One answer: a civilized person is (too?) often inclined to follow orders, even at the risk of their own ruin, “in hopes of preventing them from getting worse.” Throughout, Hayes writes lucidly and with generous spirit.

“Beware the beginnings,” admonishes a German proverb. This noteworthy book is a chilling compendium of warning signs, past and present.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-25436-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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