Inevitable? Perhaps not, but the events of 1939 made the war “hard to avoid.” Lucid and to the point, as is Overy’s...

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1939

COUNTDOWN TO WAR

Overy (History/Univ. of Exeter; The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars, 2009, etc.) limns the annus horribilis in which World War II broke out in Europe.

By the author’s account, the war was inevitable. Europe had nearly disintegrated into chaos, marked by “economic crisis, the rise of authoritarian dictatorships, deep ideological divisions, nationalist rivalries, and the collapse of the effort of the League of Nations to preserve peace.” All of these elements virtually guaranteed conflict, though the so-called Polish question was the single great catalyst. After World War I, the Allies had both created an independent Polish state and carved access to the Baltic Sea for it out of German territory, another sure way to cause strife, especially since Germany never recognized many of the provisions even before Hitler’s time. Yet it was Hitler who added the missing ingredient of revanchism, while his erstwhile treaty partner Joseph Stalin labored diligently to secure Soviet neutrality in the hope of winning some measure of control over Eastern Europe. As Overy writes, the Soviets were masterful in playing the Western Allies against Germany to gain concessions from both sides. Neither Germany nor Russia “regarded Poland as a permanent political fixture,” so dividing it up was troublesome to neither party and indeed was “an acceptable outcome to both sides.” The author gives Neville Chamberlain a slight rehabilitation, noting that by 1939 he had no illusions about Hitler or his intentions, and adding that very few ordinary Europeans actually wanted war. Yet in the end war was the only possible result of a great chess game in which Hitler played an Italian card even as Italy scrambled to maintain neutrality on its own, betting as well that England and France would not rescue Poland. That they did, the author concludes, was “not to save Poland from a cruel occupation but to save [them] from the dangers of a disintegrating world.”

Inevitable? Perhaps not, but the events of 1939 made the war “hard to avoid.” Lucid and to the point, as is Overy’s custom—of much value to students of the political dimensions of WWII.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02209-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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