A readable spy thriller that fights against the idea of “the original sin of women at war.”



A history/biography of a group of courageous women spies in World War II.

Most military historians agree that the anti-Nazi resistance played a critical role in reviving defeated nations’ self-respect after the war but contributed only modestly to the Allied victory. Hollywood and popular writers often disagree, and their number includes journalist Rose (For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History, 2010). Working diligently in the archives, the author turns up stories of Frenchwomen who found themselves in England after the war’s outbreak and volunteered to return to France to organize resistance groups, gather intelligence, and direct sabotage. Hollywood’s version would begin with “based on a true story…” and then make wholesale changes. Forced to stick closer to the facts, Rose delivers a swift-moving account that makes for sometimes-painful reading. French volunteers in the Resistance were overwhelmingly amateurs; sadly, this was also true of Britain’s military Special Operations Executive, which, cheered on by Churchill, recruited, dispatched, and supplied agents. Definitely not amateurs, Gestapo counterintelligence officers monitored radio transmissions, broke codes, transmitted their own disinformation, and arrested agents regularly. By 1943, the heart of the French Resistance and many of Rose’s subjects had been arrested or killed. By 1944, the Allies had gotten their act together, parachuting men and adequate supplies into France in preparation for the Normandy landings. Sabotage from the newly energized Resistance, including a few of Rose’s survivors, made it more difficult to send German reinforcements across France, and its strength grew as enemy forces disintegrated. A skilled journalist but also a member of the history-is-boring school of writing, the author adds novelistic touches throughout, such as her subjects’ inner thoughts and emotions. Readers who tolerate this approach will encounter an expert blow-by-blow account of the surprisingly tedious, always dangerous, and mostly short lives of some heroic women.

A readable spy thriller that fights against the idea of “the original sin of women at war.”

Pub Date: April 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49508-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2019

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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