Long superseded by other widely denounced emblems of American exceptionalism (drones, cluster bombs, torture), napalm...



The book begins with the story of the iconic 1972 photograph of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked down a road after being severely burned in a napalm attack. Readers expecting a polemic may be pleasantly surprised at this lucid account of the technical, political and ethical features of a notorious symbol of American inhumanity in war.

Neer (History/Columbia Univ.) writes that napalm is a thickening agent mixed with flammable petroleum. An advantage over traditional incendiaries is that the thick gel sticks to its target and burns far longer. Developed by Harvard researchers in 1942, it was soon put to use in flamethrowers against dug-in Japanese troops and in B-29 raids on Japanese cities, which killed far more civilians than the atomic bombs. Although less publicized, even more napalm fell during the Korean War, producing vast devastation and death in North Korean cities. Only mildly controversial at this point, its use against guerillas in Vietnam produced gruesome civilian casualties and international revulsion which persists. A 1980 U.N. treaty banning the use of incendiaries against civilians was quickly adopted by most nations but not the United States. However, in deference to world opinion, military spokesmen no longer used the word. When accused of dropping napalm during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they denied it, explaining that these were firebombs. President Barack Obama signed the treaty on his first day in office, although it includes a reservation allowing the U.S. to ignore it.

Long superseded by other widely denounced emblems of American exceptionalism (drones, cluster bombs, torture), napalm receives an overdue but thoroughly satisfying history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0674073012

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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