Dark, intriguing military history.



Journalist Talty (Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign, 2007, etc.) examines how typhus became the primary killer in Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia.

Drawing on the legions of soldiers from nations that he had conquered, Napoleon had amassed a huge army by the spring of 1812—690,000 strong, Talty estimates. Alexander I of Russia, in contrast, had only about 162,000 on the front line. Driven by “dry calculation” and the need for fresh victories, Napoleon and his troops crossed the Niemen River on June 24, and were soon struck by an ancient microbe transmitted by the common body louse. By the attack on Smolensk in mid-August, Napoleon’s effective fighting force was reduced to 175,000, with the vanishing of the army attributed more to deprivation and the heat than to the dreaded “war fever.” After the bloodbath of Borodino in early September, the hospitals for the sick and wounded became incubators for the epidemic, even though, notes Talty, “a germ theory of disease had been in place for almost two hundred years.” Retreating from Moscow in November, Napoleon had lost nearly 400,000 men, as many as 200,000 from disease. By the time the army limped back into Germany, there were only a few thousand left, who would go on to infect their homes as “fatal messengers” of the doomed Russian campaign. Talty speculates on the outcome if typhus had not ravaged Napoleon’s forces, and shows how French doctor Charles Nicolle’s isolation of its transmission helped avert the decimation of European troops in World War I.

Dark, intriguing military history.

Pub Date: June 2, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-39404-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

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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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