Tough-minded and thus more inspirational than the usual worshipful chronicle of brave soldiers in battle.




Lively account of an inept National Guard battalion that pulled itself together, went to Iraq and performed heroically.

Eulogized in a 1940 film with James Cagney, “The Fighting 69th” fought with distinction from the Civil War to World War II, but by the 1990s, reclassified as National Guard, it had declined significantly. Former company commander Flynn (Land of Radioactive Midnight: A Cheechako’s First Year in Alaska, 2003) draws a vivid picture of his Manhattan-based unit’s disgraceful state as the 21st century began. Members treated meetings as a chance to party. Alcohol and drugs flowed freely. Many officers were old, incompetent or simply uninterested. State commanders overlooked the lack of discipline in an effort to keep the already depleted 69th from losing more men. Despite this apathy, on 9/11 hundreds rushed to the armory without being summoned, sacrificing jobs and personal convenience to help out. When the 69th received orders to deploy to Iraq, its leaders knew it was unfit for combat, and the subsequent hasty training did not improve matters. However, after the men took over pacification efforts in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood in October 2004, the motley group of amateur soldiers transformed themselves into battle-hardened professionals. Flynn becomes surprisingly sophisticated and even politically incorrect in his descriptions of how they learned on the job. Sunni and Shia Iraqis hated each other more than they hated Americans. Men of the 69th showed no love for either group and came perilously close to taking revenge on civilians when comrades were killed. Roadside and car bombs inflicted massive casualties, so pacification involved nerve-wracking patrols, perpetual suspicion and frequent raids on homes during which public relations became a low priority. Yet the 69th succeeded. Area commanders delivered praise; local Iraqis showed gratitude. Sadly, Flynn reminds us, successful counterinsurgency requires units to “clear, hold, and build.” The 69th did not stay long enough to “hold,” and rebuilding did not happen, so insurgents returned once the soldiers departed.

Tough-minded and thus more inspirational than the usual worshipful chronicle of brave soldiers in battle.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01843-7

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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