JOHN BIRCH

A LIFE

A useful work that elucidates both the U.S. role in China and some elements of the contemporary conservative mindset.

A serious probe into the life of the Baptist missionary to China who posthumously (and thus unwittingly) served as the right wing’s poster child.

Who was the real John Birch (1918-1945)? Academic Lautz, who grew up in Taiwan and later became a scholar of Asia, was curious enough to delve deeply into the brief life of this young missionary and U.S. intelligence officer who was killed by the Chinese communists at the age of 27. The author situates Birch—who made his way to China in 1940 at the behest of a charismatic preacher to take up the work of training Chinese children to become Christian—squarely in the center of the political tensions between U.S.–backed Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists, both battling the Japanese invaders. Although Birch, brought up by a strong-willed mother and failed missionary father, only desired to be a simple fundamentalist preacher saving souls in rural China, he volunteered for the U.S. military in 1942 and was put to work in gathering intelligence for the Office of Strategic Services, which eventually led to his untimely death. Lautz also explores the co-opting of Birch’s life by conspiracy-minded conservatives like Republican California Sen. William F. Knowland, who believed the “loss of China” would spell a communist conquest of the whole region and first mentioned the young man’s name in a speech in Congress in September 1950 as “the first casualty of World War III.” Subsequently, Birch’s name would become synonymous as a martyr to the Cold War, ardently endorsed by his mother. His life was appropriated by businessman Robert Welch, who broadcast the myths about him and started the John Birch Society in 1958 (“less government, more responsibility, and a better world”). Lautz sorts the real story from the “lunatic fringe.”

A useful work that elucidates both the U.S. role in China and some elements of the contemporary conservative mindset.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-026289-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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