Laugh-out-loud stories about how the United States failed to rebuild Iraq.

After 2005, the State Department suddenly received orders to reconstruct the country. In the loop after years of neglect, it scrambled to find qualified personnel but never succeeded. The main criteria seemed to be a willingness to live in Iraq for a year at a salary of $250,000 and three paid vacations. A career Foreign Service bureaucrat with a daughter requiring college tuition, Van Buren volunteered. After a hasty “Islam for Dummies” orientation (“dudes kiss, no serving bacon, no joking about God”), he flew to Iraq, collected his helmet, body armor and armed guards (mandatory when off base) and set to work. The author’s hilarious vignettes do not conceal his outrage. “The more projects the better” mantra trumped inconveniences such as market research. A clothing factory opened and quickly closed in the face of far-cheaper Chinese imports. Researchers doubted Iraqis would pay double for fresh chicken what they currently paid for the frozen Brazilian variety, but American contractors built a chicken-processing facility anyway—and proved the researchers right. Easy, feel-good projects were popular, producing cheerful photos of troops giving free stuff to happy kids, while avoiding sullen Iraqi adults observing from afar. Long-term development proved difficult because Iraq’s government refuses to assume salary and maintenance costs once American contractors finish, leaving the nation dotted with empty school, clinics and other facilities. A few moving essays reveal a desperately unhappy nation, but mostly this is a delightful companion to Richard Galli’s classic Vietnam hearts-and-minds satire, Of Rice and Men (2006). One of the rare, completely satisfying results of the expensive debacle in Iraq.


Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9436-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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