A penetrating collection of pieces on war and how art responds to it.



Reflections on the personal accounts of combatants in an exploration of the literary responses to the great wars of the 20th century.

Hynes (Emeritus, Literature/Princeton Univ.; The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War, 2014, etc.) was a decorated Marine combat pilot in World War II. In this series of essays, reviews, and introductions collected over many years, however, he mostly looks toward World War I. The author argues that WWII lacked the “high drama and moral complexities” of WWI and thus did not produce classic literary expressions of the struggle. It was after WWI, he writes, that rhetoric (romantic, glorious war) met reality, and when reality changes, so does the artist's imagination. Hynes is fascinated with how the artist, in turn, shapes the ways we feel about and interpret war. A critic rather than a military historian, Hynes sometimes succumbs to a bit of romanticism, though this is very much the exception. In the superb essay “In the Whirl and Muddle of War,” he assays the work of men who had a deep need to record what they witnessed and felt, explaining why the individual accounts of those bearing witness to the experience of war are of particular value yet are too little read. These, as well as the work of poets and artists, are accorded their due. From renowned figures of literature to the less celebrated, the author offers powerful perspectives on the drama of destruction, exploring the character of wars “good” and “bad.” But the analysis is his own. He acknowledges, gloomily, that even the greatest art bears little power as a preventative instrument. Hynes studies what our literature and art tell us, or fail to tell us, about war, and there is much wisdom in his critique. He believes we have come to the end of “the Big Words and brave gestures and the tall stone monuments.”

A penetrating collection of pieces on war and how art responds to it.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-226-46878-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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