A worthy sortie that explores a curtain-closing moment in history that might have gone very badly indeed.

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LAST TO DIE

A DEFEATED EMPIRE, A FORGOTTEN MISSION, AND THE LAST AMERICAN KILLED IN WORLD WAR II

The surrender that almost wasn’t: an illuminating study of the last moments of World War II.

According to conventional histories, Japan lost no time in surrendering to the Allies after the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, writes Military History editor in chief Harding (The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, 2013), who seems to be making a specialty of the forgotten closing episodes of WWII, there was more than sporadic resistance. Despite Emperor Hirohito’s order for a cease-fire, numerous military units committed mutiny by continuing to fight—and it was one such unit that killed American Airman Anthony Marchione, just 20 years old. In a neat blend of military and technological history, Harding links Marchione’s story to the development of the aircraft he staffed, a lumbering target called the Consolidated Dominator, a “trouble-plagued super bomber” that barely took off before being scrapped—and whose very existence has been reduced, these days, to a few parts in private collections around the world. Harding also examines the episode surrounding Marchione’s death in its global-implications context: had Gen. Douglas MacArthur chosen to retaliate, he suggests, the war in Japan might have raged on, since the anti-surrender elements in the Japanese military could have argued that the Allies, too, had violated the cease-fire agreement. There are some dense technical passages that will please aircraft enthusiasts but that civilians might find daunting (“The design featured a shoulder-mounted high-lift/low-drag Davis wing with a span of 135 feet, twin end-plate fin and rudder assemblies, and eighty-three-foot-long cylindrical fuselage, tricycle landing gear, and dual ‘roll-up’ bomb bays”) and a few moments of semidigested, tangential information (“Italy in the early twentieth century was a land of widespread economic inequality”), but in the main, the narrative is well-executed.

A worthy sortie that explores a curtain-closing moment in history that might have gone very badly indeed.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-306-82338-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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