Tuchman remains irresistible, and David Fromkin’s Europe’s Last Summer (2004) is the best modern history, but McMeekin...

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JULY 1914

COUNTDOWN TO WAR

McMeekin (History/Koç Univ.; The Russian Origins of the First World War, 2011, etc.) treads familiar ground but delivers a thoroughly rewarding account that spares no nation regarding the causes of World War I, although Germany receives more than its share of blame.

Historians love to argue about who started World War I. Blaming Germany fell out of fashion soon after the Armistice succeeded, replaced by an interpretation that blamed everyone, exemplified by Barbara Tuchman’s classic 1962 Guns of August. Within a decade, German scholars led another reversal back to their own nation’s responsibility. Russia, huge and backward but rapidly modernizing, was the key. German military leaders led by Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the General Staff, believed Russia would attack Germany as soon as it felt confident of victory and that only a preventive war could save the nation. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand’s murder by a Serbian terrorist proved a godsend. Austria yearned to crush Serbia, the pugnacious Balkan nation stirring up the Slav minority in Austria-Hungary’s rickety empire. Von Moltke decided it was time to set matters right since Austria’s cooperation was guaranteed. Russia’s refusal to stop mobilizing in support of Serbia allowed him to warn that it was about to attack and that Germany had to strike first. It did so by invading Belgium on August 4, the act that made war inevitable.

Tuchman remains irresistible, and David Fromkin’s Europe’s Last Summer (2004) is the best modern history, but McMeekin delivers a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of the increasingly frantic maneuvers of European civilian leaders who mostly didn’t want war and military leaders who had less objection.

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0465031450

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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...

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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