A rare example of a gripping institutional history.



A former Peace Corps insider chronicles the history of the agency.

Meisler (Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War, 2006, etc.) left journalism to serve as a Peace Corps administrator during its formative years in the 1960s. He then returned to journalism overseas, but kept track of Corps politics and culture. Created during the presidency of John F. Kennedy and directed at first by Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, the Corps sent hurriedly trained American volunteers to nations across the globe, starting with Ghana and Tanzania. Meisler wisely alternates the focus among the political appointees running the Washington, D.C., headquarters, the country directors trying to fit in with embassy diplomats and the volunteers themselves, by now numbering more than 200,000. Although clearly fond of the organization’s mission, the author takes the story beyond valentine mode to discuss manipulation of the volunteers for U.S. foreign-policy purposes, crimes committed against and by the volunteers, White House occupants tone deaf to the Corps culture and unwise budget slashers within Congress. The narrative is filled with surprises, such as Meisler's positive chapter about the directorship of Loret Miller Ruppe, appointed by President Reagan, who appeared to lack even the slightest qualification for the position, given her status as a brewery heiress and the wife of a Republican congressman. However, she became a savvy, non-ideological and even beloved director. In the final chapter, the author discusses the Corps’ status during the Obama administration; Meisler approves Obama's choice as director of Aaron Williams, a former Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. In an afterword, the author grapples with the complex question, “Does the Peace Corps Do Any Good?” He answers in the affirmative, with relatively minor caveats.

A rare example of a gripping institutional history.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8070-5049-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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