A well-delineated excavation of yet another dark corner of American history.

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THE JAKARTA METHOD

WASHINGTON'S ANTICOMMUNIST CRUSADE AND THE MASS MURDER PROGRAM THAT SHAPED OUR WORLD

A veteran international correspondent uncovers the highly disturbing history of a mid-1960s “apocalyptic slaughter” in Indonesia, Latin America, and beyond, undertaken as part of America’s aggressively anti-communist foreign policy.

As Bevins, who covered Southeast Asia for the Washington Post, describes, this particular era of U.S. foreign policy began to take shape after World War II, eventually leading to the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The main thrust of the author’s certain-to-be-controversial thesis revolves around U.S. government intervention in Indonesia. In the 1960s, after shrugging off the yoke of Dutch colonizers, the island nation “was home to the world’s largest Communist Party outside the Soviet Union and China.” Adding to the threat, according to anxious American political and military leaders at the time, Indonesia, with the sixth-largest population in the world, was also “the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.” After the U.S. played a significant role in ousting Indonesia's communist leaders during the early part of the 1960s, the new, virulently anti-communist leaders initiated a frighteningly widespread murderous cleansing. “In total,” writes the author, “it is estimated that between five hundred thousand and one million people were slaughtered, and one million more were herded into concentration camps.” As Bevins continued his research beyond Indonesia, he identified nearly 20 other nations targeted by the U.S. for mass murders of alleged communists and ancillary troublemakers seen as anti-capitalists. Other than Indonesia, the focus is most heavily on Brazil, but he at least touches on the other countries affected by American actions, creating a shocking portrait that few readers will forget. Bevins is convinced that most Americans today are aware of this particularly bloody era of U.S. foreign policy, and he’s likely right. Although his conclusions will be treated as unbelievable or exaggerated by some, his research is solid and his conclusions convincing.

A well-delineated excavation of yet another dark corner of American history.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-4240-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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Finely honed biographical intuition and a novelist’s sensibility make for a stylish, engrossing narrative.

THE MAN IN THE RED COAT

A fresh, urbane history of the dramatic and melodramatic belle epoque.

When Barnes (The Only Story, 2018, etc.), winner of the Man Booker Prize and many other literary awards, first saw John Singer Sargent’s striking portrait of Dr. Samuel Pozzi—handsome, “virile, yet slender,” dressed in a sumptuous scarlet coat—he was intrigued by a figure he had not yet encountered in his readings about 19th-century France. The wall label revealed that Pozzi was a gynecologist; a magazine article called him “not only the father of French gynecology, but also a confirmed sex addict who routinely attempted to seduce his female patients.” The paradox of healer and exploiter posed an alluring mystery that Barnes was eager to investigate. Pozzi, he discovered, succeeded in his amorous affairs as much as in his acclaimed career. “I have never met a man as seductive as Pozzi,” the arrogant Count Robert de Montesquiou recalled; Pozzi was a “man of rare good sense and rare good taste,” “filled with knowledge and purpose” as well as “grace and charm.” The author’s portrait, as admiring as Sargent’s, depicts a “hospitable, generous” man, “rich by marriage, clubbable, inquisitive, cultured and well travelled,” and brilliant. The cosmopolitan Pozzi, his supercilious friend Montesquiou, and “gentle, whimsical” Edmond de Polignac are central characters in Barnes’ irreverent, gossipy, sparkling history of the belle epoque, “a time of vast wealth for the wealthy, of social power for the aristocracy, of uncontrolled and intricate snobbery, of headlong colonial ambition, of artistic patronage, and of duels whose scale of violence often reflected personal irascibility more than offended honor.” Dueling, writes the author, “was not just the highest form of sport, it also required the highest form of manliness.” Barnes peoples his history with a spirited cast of characters, including Sargent and Whistler, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt (who adored Pozzi), Henry James and Proust, Pozzi’s diarist daughter, Catherine, and unhappy wife, Therese, and scores more.

Finely honed biographical intuition and a novelist’s sensibility make for a stylish, engrossing narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65877-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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