Absorbing, appalling history.

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The CIA started off on the wrong foot in 1947 and never regained it, maintains Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Weiner (Blank Check, 1990, etc.).

Presidents Truman and Eisenhower believed intelligence could prevent another Pearl Harbor by uncovering Soviet intentions, but the CIA never predicted an important Soviet or terrorist move, the author avers. The agency devotes most of its budget to covert operations, most of them bungled. Aided by an avalanche of documents declassified since 2000, Weiner offers a dismal litany of failed operations the agency did its best to cover up. Thousands of potential insurgents or saboteurs sent into Russia and its satellites, North Korea, China and Vietnam were quickly eliminated. Clumsy attempts to overthrow unfriendly (i.e. neutral) governments usually failed. Two widely praised successes—the 1953 Iranian coup that placed the Shah on the throne and the overthrow of a leftist Guatemalan government in 1954—are now considered mistakes. Suppressing news of the 1961 invasion at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs was impossible, but even that disaster did not put an end to covert operations, because presidents valued them. Readers will wince at the CIA’s involvement in plots to murder Fidel Castro, the brutal 1973 coup in Chile and massive spying on American protest groups. The Soviet collapse, unpredicted as usual, was a blow from which the agency has not recovered, states the author. The military has taken over much responsibility for covert action, with no greater success. Though highly critical of the CIA, Weiner makes two important mitigating points. First, democracies are not obligated to fight fire with fire: CIA money won more hearts and minds than pseudo-KGB ruthlessness, and KGB debacles contributed mightily to the USSR’s decline. Second, many presidents demanded bad intelligence. Chief executives either ignored or angrily demanded recasting of such good information as the reports that North Vietnam was nowhere near defeat, Soviet missile capacity was overrated and evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was feeble.

Absorbing, appalling history.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-51445-3

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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