Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan.

THE HARDEST PLACE

THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADRIFT IN AFGHANISTAN'S PECH VALLEY

A searching history of the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida in a remote district of Afghanistan.

The Pech Valley, writes journalist Morgan in his impressive debut, is a mountainous region that drew the attention of the U.S. military shortly after 9/11, with soldiers “on the trail of Osama bin Laden.” Establishing a series of forward operating bases, American troops attempted to bring something like order to the region. However, with villages isolated by steep mountains and almost no passable roads, movement was difficult—it could take an entire day for a small unit to move a couple of miles, even without opposition. Insurgents who learned their tactics from the fight against the Soviet army in the 1980s now turned against the U.S. forces, using improvised explosive devices and well-coordinated ambushes. The locals who seemed to be cooperative to U.S. soldiers were clearly working with the insurgents—their family members and neighbors—when the Americans inevitably went away. While large assaults into the narrow side valleys and high mountain clearings could lead to significant enemy casualties, they too often led to unacceptable civilian deaths, further alienating the population. Furthermore, as Morgan vividly shows, the enemy proved skillful in overcoming the Americans’ apparent technological superiority, downing helicopters and overrunning small bases on several occasions. Ultimately, the U.S. turned over its outposts to the Afghan military, providing a few advisers who rarely accompanied the locals into combat. By 2015, the U.S. was conducting operations with drones and the occasional crewed aircraft. The author, who spent a good deal of time in the region, interviewed many of the soldiers who served in the Pech as well as a number of Afghan locals. The result is a sobering look at how the same mistakes were repeated by subsequent deployments, with predictable results.

Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the war in Afghanistan.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9506-0

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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