A fine work of scholarly detection, turning up a story that deserves to be much better known.

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RESCUE BOARD

THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICA'S EFFORTS TO SAVE THE JEWS OF EUROPE

Intriguing history of the only U.S. government agency ever founded with the express purpose “to save the lives of civilians being murdered by a wartime enemy.”

America’s closed-door immigration policy, the product of an intractably isolationist Congress, did not budge during much of World War II, even after Hitler’s program of annihilation became a known reality. As U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archivist and curator Erbelding writes, it was largely thanks to a German-American lawyer named John Pehle that formerly private efforts at rescue became official ones. Firmly committed to an activist sense of justice, Pehle worked at the Treasury Department, leading efforts to freeze the assets and accounts of the nation’s enemies—and thus “economically fighting the war long before Pearl Harbor.” His office also monitored relief funds to Jewish refugees, and it was from that starting point that Pehle eventually organized the War Refugee Board, which, beginning formally in January 1944, provided such funding. Moreover, the WRB was its own clandestine operation on a par with the OSS, funding Resistance fighters in France, paying smugglers, bribing officials, and even floating efforts to negotiate with the Nazis directly to ransom European Jews. The last proved controversial and fell apart thanks to institutional resistance. As the author writes, “Great Britain refused any bargain designed to stave off Germany’s defeat, nor could it care for a million released prisoners, which would undoubtedly force the Allies to call a temporary halt to the war.” Even WRB efforts to make the Holocaust known to American soldiers and those on the homefront were quashed. But many of the WRB’s efforts were more successful overall, including opening diplomatic pathways to allow Jews to enter and settle in British Palestine, saving thousands of lives in the bargain. The denouement of the story is satisfying, too, for Pehle helped prosecute Nazi war criminals, while one of his colleagues became mayor of New York.

A fine work of scholarly detection, turning up a story that deserves to be much better known.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54251-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

THE WAY I HEARD IT

Former Dirty Jobs star Rowe serves up a few dozen brief human-interest stories.

Building on his popular podcast, the author “tells some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do.” Some of those stories, he allows, have been subject to correction, just as on his TV show he was “corrected on windmills and oil derricks, coal mines and construction sites, frack tanks, pig farms, slime lines, and lumber mills.” Still, it’s clear that he takes pains to get things right even if he’s not above a few too-obvious groaners, writing about erections (of skyscrapers, that is, and, less elegantly, of pigs) here and Joan Rivers (“the Bonnie Parker of comedy”) there, working the likes of Bob Dylan, William Randolph Hearst, and John Wayne into the discourse. The most charming pieces play on Rowe’s own foibles. In one, he writes of having taken a soft job as a “caretaker”—in quotes—of a country estate with few clear lines of responsibility save, as he reveals, humoring the resident ghost. As the author notes on his website, being a TV host gave him great skills in “talking for long periods without saying anything of substance,” and some of his stories are more filler than compelling narrative. In others, though, he digs deeper, as when he writes of Jason Everman, a rock guitarist who walked away from two spectacularly successful bands (Nirvana and Soundgarden) in order to serve as a special forces operative: “If you thought that Pete Best blew his chance with the Beatles, consider this: the first band Jason bungled sold 30 million records in a single year.” Speaking of rock stars, Rowe does a good job with the oft-repeated matter of Charlie Manson’s brief career as a songwriter: “No one can say if having his song stolen by the Beach Boys pushed Charlie over the edge,” writes the author, but it can’t have helped.

Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982130-85-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

THE UNDOCUMENTED AMERICANS

The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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