Solid Revolutionary War scholarship.



A nicely paced and richly detailed account of the final months of the American Revolution.

In 1780, writes noted historian Ketchum (Divided Loyalties, 2002, etc.), victory was very far from certain for the insurgent Americans. The revolutionary army had gone unpaid for months and years, food and supplies and arms were in constantly short supply, and a brutal winter had taken a vicious toll on the men in the field. France had been promising intervention since signing a treaty of alliance in 1777, but so battered was his force, George Washington feared, that “when the French finally did arrive, they would immediately see the desperate condition of the Continental Army and the helplessness of America, and sail away.” He had good cause to worry, for certain French officials had been putting in the word to Louis XVI that the best course of action was to let the English and Americans “exhaust themselves reciprocally” and then take the continent for France. But French troops and fleets finally did come, providing the citizens of Philadelphia with a splendid parade before taking to the field. Washington’s tiny army—a French officer estimated its strength at only 3,000—rallied, thwarted Benedict Arnold’s plan to turn West Point over to the British, and began a long campaign of harrying Lord Cornwallis’s army in the south, gathering reinforcements as they pummeled the enemy. Ketchum capably reconstructs these dramatic events, giving equal weight to large historical currents and the small accidents of personality alike; on the latter, for instance, he reveals that Cornwallis would forever hold a grudge against his superior officer, Sir Henry Clinton, for failing to break the siege of Yorktown, inasmuch as “nothing but the hopes of relief would have induced me to attempt its defense.” Ketchum delivers a few surprises as well, revealing, for one thing, that the desperate British once seeded the plantations of Tidewater Virginia with smallpox-infected slaves “as instruments of germ warfare.”

Solid Revolutionary War scholarship.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-7396-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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