A chilling, often depressing read that merits attention, if only for the other “perfect soldiers” who may be waiting out...

PERFECT SOLDIERS

THE HIJACKERS: WHO THEY WERE, WHY THEY DID IT

Is there any reason why we need to know more about the 19 hijackers who attacked America on 9/11?

Actually, there is. Los Angeles Times reporter McDermott concedes that none of these young, robotlike religious fanatics were particularly remarkable or even interesting. Indeed, they were tedious company for everyone but the like-minded. But therein lies McDermott's cautionary point. The fact that the hijackers were “fairly ordinary men” makes them more ominous, easily replaceable by any one of thousands of similar human drones presumably waiting in the wings. This account focuses primarily on three of the hijackers: Mohammed el-Amir Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah. It follows them from separate mundane childhoods in the Middle East through their student days in Hamburg to the final months of preparation in the United States. In the process, we witness their evolution from pious Muslims into radical jihadists, along with the growth of the loosely conceived plot that outwitted U.S. security largely through its sheer simplicity and insanity. McDermott never really fulfills the promise of his subtitle to explain why they did it, aside from offering the standard bromide that they saw themselves as martyrs in a holy war. But his extensive research and well-organized narrative does better in showing just who these misguided killers were and how they eluded suspicion by simply keeping their heads down. The story carries several lessons. Not the least is the repeated failure of U.S. and German authorities to prevent the catastrophe, although they were often achingly close to doing so, even days before Sept. 11. Another lesson is that despite the near-preternatural reputation Al Qaeda acquired following 9/11, the group’s small core was composed of men in many ways as bumbling and error-prone as your local Mafia crew. Tragically, it was American inattention and carelessness that allowed them to succeed.

A chilling, often depressing read that merits attention, if only for the other “perfect soldiers” who may be waiting out there.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-058469-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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