A competent piece of historical detective work that is less satisfying as popular history.




An attempt to identify the true culprit behind the excessively bloody taking of a German fortress by green American forces at the tail end of World War I.

In his debut history, military historian Walker aims to settle a disputed incident in American military history that took place at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. The 79th Division, which “had completed less than six weeks of the prescribed twelve weeks of combat training,” was given the difficult task of taking Montfaucon, a fortified butte serving as a valuable observation post for German artillery and known as “the Little Gibraltar of the Western Front” for its impenetrability. The battle-hardened 4th Division, by contrast, was given a relatively easy sector of the German lines to penetrate. Walker marshals exhaustive evidence suggesting that American planners intended to execute a “turning maneuver”: while the inexperienced 79th held the veteran defenders’ attention, the 4th would encircle the strong-point and force its surrender. The author argues that Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee Bullard ignored this order, hoping to win glory by leading his corps, which included the 4th Division, further into German territory than any other American unit. Unfortunately, this “betrayal,” while undoubtedly of interest to soldiers of the 79th and military historians, seems insufficiently consequential to interest casual history buffs. Walker never fully demonstrates that capturing Montfaucon was as crucial to the (arguable) failure of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as other factors mentioned by the author, including the American soldiers' inexperience, sophisticated German defenses, and outdated tactics encouraged by American commanders who “still worshiped the rifle and bayonet.” Furthermore, Walker leans too heavily on military history clichés, comparing the combatants to “depleted boxers” and quoting heavily from excellent but well-mined sources such as historian John Keegan.

A competent piece of historical detective work that is less satisfying as popular history.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1789-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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