A sensitive and in-depth portrait of two “good Germans” who have remained unrecognized for over half a century.



The inspired life and tragic death of the only American woman to be executed on Hitler’s command.

Mildred Harnack and her husband Arvid were members of the Nazi resistance group known as the Red Orchestra, which provided intelligence to the US and Russia during WWII. As members of the German opposition, their decade of work has been largely hidden from history until now. Brysac (Tournament of Shadows, not reviewed) examined Mildred’s correspondence with her mother and friends, interviewed surviving acquaintances, and combed through a wealth of previously classified German, Soviet, and American documents in the course of her research: the result is a careful and intricately detailed account of the Harnacks and dozens of the political activists, diplomats, and academics they knew. The study begins, however, as an intimate biography, tracing the youth of a beautiful girl raised in Wisconsin, recording her passions for literature and drama, considering the poetry she wrote in friends’ yearbooks and the fiction she wrote about herself. In 1926, at the University of Wisconsin, Mildred fell in love with German academic Arvid Harnack. They soon married and moved to Berlin, where she continued her graduate studies in philosophy, American literature, and translation. Brysac does a good job recreating the literary and academic atmosphere of 1920s Berlin and stresses the influence of neighboring Russia on the German capital’s political climate. Arvid’s socialist tendencies grew, Mildred sympathized with his political views, and both developed strong interests in Soviet life, politics, and economics. Although many of the exploits described here cannot be documented, the author reveals how the Harnacks’ lives were transformed, how they helped Jews and political dissidents escape Germany, and how they maintained their outward appearance while working as spies in the German underground. They were captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned, tortured, and put to death in 1943 at the order of Hitler.

A sensitive and in-depth portrait of two “good Germans” who have remained unrecognized for over half a century.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-19-513269-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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