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Despite the breathless delivery, this is a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground.

Historical biography of an American woman who led resistance groups against the Nazis before Hitler personally ordered her execution in 1943.

Donner’s subject is Mildred Harnack (1902-1943), who traveled to Germany in 1929 to obtain a doctorate in literature. She opposed Hitler even before he came to power in 1933 and spent 10 years in the resistance before her arrest and execution. Specific facts about the lives of people who aim to leave no evidence are hard to come by (“her aim was self-erasure”), but Donner has clearly worked hard in East German, Soviet, and recently released American archives to tell an impressive story. Living mostly in Berlin, Harnack earned money by lecturing, translating, and teaching English. In the first years of Nazi rule, when public opposition was possible, she made no secret of her beliefs and organized informal meetings in her apartment to “discuss Germany’s political climate.” After several years, her group moved underground and began active resistance, largely by printing and distributing leaflets. Many urged readers to sabotage military production. Harnack’s group came to be known as the Red Orchestra, but this was a name given by German intelligence. Orchestra described any enemy network, and Red labeled it as communist. Although sympathetic to the Soviet Union, Harnack may not have engaged directly in espionage. Others did, however, and it was an intercepted transmission from Moscow that provided information that led to her 1942 arrest. Harnack was a brave idealist, and she died for her beliefs, but Donner—like many historians of civilians who opposed Hitler—largely passes over the painful fact their efforts did not significantly inconvenience the Nazis. Mostly novelistic, the narrative contains some manufactured tension, melodrama, and passages of purple prose and paragraphs broken apart or clipped short to create a dramatic effect that feels forced.

Despite the breathless delivery, this is a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-56169-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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