PositiveThe Guardian (UK)As John Gooch spells out again and again in his scrupulous account of Mussolini’s wars, Italy at every stage lacked resources, which made her ever more fatally beholden to Germany, her dangerous and untrustworthy ally ... Over much of Gooch’s long and fascinating book hangs Mussolini’s personality. By turn gungho and monosyllabic, truculent and cheerful, he changed his senior soldiers around, issued orders and then cancelled them, committing Italy to battles she could not win. Gooch is skilful at carrying his narrative forward, through painful campaigns and quixotic tactics, through advances and retreats, victories and losses.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... both a personal quest to understand her family’s connection with Trocmé and a reflection on Ms. Paxson’s own field of study. Part history and part reporting, it contains reimagined scenes and speculations, along with digressions on such topics as demography and cave painting ... peace, like happiness or love, Ms. Paxson recognizes, is not measurable but rather a \'dynamic\' force \'not located in the beginning or the end, but in the unfolding.\'
RaveThe SpectatorPilecki’s own story is tragic, and Fairweather tells it well ... What distinguishes The Volunteer is Fairweather’s meticulous attention to accuracy ... The fascination of his book lies not just in the story of Witold Pilecki and his brave friends, nor in its punctilious chronicle of the information reaching the Allies, but the light it throws on Auschwitz’s early days, before it turned into a mass-killing centre for Europe’s Jews. If it sometimes seems as though there is nothing left to uncover about the Holocaust, Fairweather’s gripping book proves otherwise.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Given the speed with which memories alter and the way that perceptions of the past shift to reflect the mood of the present, [the testimonies] might have benefited from a little more context—the ages of the witnesses perhaps, or the dates of the interviews. But this is a small matter. What counts is that Alexievich has refused to allow Soviet history to be written without the voices of the people who endured the wars, calamities, famines, poverty and political persecutions that filled the 20th century. However grim and repetitive her books are, the cumulative effect, not least of Lost Witnesses, is extremely powerful. This is for the most part because her own views—that war is atrocious, and that the poor, the powerless, minorities and dissidents, and even people who simply happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, are readily disposed of by those in power—are explicit in her choice of excerpts and the craft with which she shapes them. Few people have ever conjured better the pain of loss.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIt is hard to find joy anywhere in The Age of Disenchantments, though Mr. Shulman’s occasional novelistic speculations lift its sense of desolation. Mr. Shulman’s decision to pursue his narrative on two levels—one as the portrait of a dysfunctional, quarrelsome family of misfits; the other as the history of modern Spain—doesn’t always work. Panero’s death, halfway through the narrative, robs the story of its central focus, all the more so since Panero is certainly the family’s most interesting and enigmatic character: a Franco supporter who published the dictator’s loudest critic, Pablo Neruda, and, while in London after the war, a friend to anti-Franco exiles. It is as a portrait of an earlier Spain, before Franco crushed its people, that the book works best: when poets were widely loved and celebrated and, as a young visitor to the Paneros’ house put it, \'all the young people were drunk with hope and poetry.\'
RaveThe GuardianThis scholarly, elegantly written book is a reminder of how seldom, when visiting a museum, most of us take the time to inquire into what lies behind the objects we look at. Living with the Gods is a celebration of curiosity ... It is also hard not to feel, at the end of this fascinating book, that with our battery farms, exploitation of resources, pollution and the hunting of animals and birds to extinction, the interrelationship between humans and the living world is seriously out of kilter. We have a very long way to go before we live properly either with the gods or with each other.
PositiveThe GuardianAs much as an account of a death, this is a portrait of a family ... a touching, painful disquisition on memory and forgetting and the tendrils that tie us to the past. It is also a sad indictment of the private school culture still prevalent in the late 70s, which believed that only by squashing emotion could true character be formed ... a memorable addition to the growing collection of memoirs on loss and grief.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIt’s a deft and fascinating narrative ... The Last Palace is steeped in politics, military history, architectural lore and anecdotes. Mr. Eisen has combed state, private and military archives across Europe, the U.S. and Israel for his material. He has employed teams of research assistants, interviewed dozens of witnesses and Petschek descendants, and read numerous memoirs and war-crime trial files. The Petschek family documents in Prague, scattered in various locations, occupy several hundred boxes. The book’s detailed source notes alone, downloadable online, run to almost 200 pages and are a proof of what there is to be found, in the telling of history, for someone with time, energy, resourcefulness, contacts and money. If it seems churlish to mention that, for all the vast scholarship, the narrative is peppered with historical details the author cannot possibly have known, it is also true that Mr. Eisen’s easy, fluid style and the richness of his material make for very pleasurable historical reading.
PositiveThe GuardianThough this 10-year dramatic chronicle starts with 45-year-old Fabian and social reformer Emmeline Pankhurst, and her three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in October 1903, Atkinson rightly dedicates much of her book to the many hundreds of less celebrated figures whose fight was no less dogged ... Atkinson’s survey is indeed comprehensive, but her determination to give as many women as possible their due has inevitably resulted in a book that, though full of fascinating vignettes, is more an encyclopedia than a historical narrative. What stays in the mind, however, is the sheer bloody-minded determination and courage of a large number of these campaigners, as well as the little remembered brutality of the police and the government towards them.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe best part of Ms. Ronald’s book is her account of Florence Gould’s war ... Ms. Ronald takes the opportunity to create scenes full of intrigue, as when the exiled Italian antifascist Carlo Rosselli and his brother were assassinated in Normandy while staying at Gould’s hotel ... But this speculation, like other instances in the book, is just that: speculative ... One of the problems with writing about compulsive liars and mythomanes is how to find out and be sure of the truth. Though Ms. Ronald is forced to fall back repeatedly on conjecture, she paints a lively picture of the world in which Florence moved, with all its intricate financial shenanigans, rivalrous investors and glittering social occasions. But there are small errors ... But if the author breezes over certain details, her narrative certainly moves at a brisk pace, even if her main characters besides Florence often remain shadowy.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...an odd, ill-judged episode that took place when he was in his late 70s that he [Robert de La Rochefoucauld] is best remembered in France, and this forms both the prelude and the epilogue to Paul Kix’s biography, The Saboteur ... Mr. Kix has consulted numerous diaries, interviewed survivors and spent much time with La Rochefoucauld’s family and friends ...research is meticulous, though small errors have crept in...as Mr. Kix describes it, is a work of 'narrative nonfiction,' and it is written in a novelistic style, with much reported speech and many references to smells, sights, thoughts and feelings not actually possible to corroborate ...book does little to explain the decades of willful amnesia that settled over swathes of French society. But it provides a lively picture of a brave man, for whom patriotism, nobility and duty were immutable principles of life.
RaveThe GuardianAt every stage, Mazower sets off in pursuit of aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and fellow revolutionaries, who moved from country to country, changing names and identities, escaping camps and prisons, prying them out from the stones under which they have hidden, clasping at the ‘threads in the tangled skein of this vanished micro society of the Russian Jewish emigration that I was trying to unravel’. He follows scraps of information, names found in letters or telephone directories, documents long buried deep in archives. The cast of characters grows and grows … What You Did Not Tell is proof of what historical research can yield, providing you have the determination, skill and boundless curiosity to pursue it to the bitter end. But it is also an affectionate portrait of a family whose members Mazower got to know, love and respect more and more as he discovered things that reticence, modesty and an instinctive need for silence had kept resolutely hidden.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalCasablanca was indeed a hotbed of intrigue. But it would be a mistake to confuse Ms. Hindley’s book with the film. What she has produced is a detailed account of the war years in Morocco, the country’s feuds between pro- and anti-Vichy officials, its diplomatic deals and stand-offs, and the setbacks and successes of the Allied landings. This is a book for historians, not film buffs ... Ms. Hindley is good at evoking these adventurers, schemers and idealists ... Digging deep into military archives in Britain, France and the U.S., Ms. Hindley has produced a scholarly narrative, weaving her way deftly among a large cast of characters, both familiar and unfamiliar.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveThe GuardianHer years of meticulous listening, her unobtrusiveness and her ear for the telling detail and the memorable story have made her an exceptional witness to modern times. Critics have objected to the lack of all but brief interlinking passages, but if anything the few that are there intrude: the effect of this seamless flow of voices is one of immediacy. Like Delbo’s Auschwitz and After, Alexievich’s book is a map not of events but of the character and emotions of those involved in them. This is oral history at its finest and it is also an essay on the power of memory, on what is remembered and what is forgotten. 'It’s terrible to remember,' one woman told her. 'But it’s far more terrible to forget.'”
Lesley M. M. Blume
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...meticulously document[ed] ... For Everybody Behaves Badly, Ms. Blume has drawn deeply upon many sources, particularly Hemingway’s own correspondence, to deftly portray the cast of lost characters, their thin-skinned vanities and their quarrelsome insecurities.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a deeply disturbing and depressing portrait of the violence, destitution, fear, sense of hopelessness and neglect in which a large number of the world’s estimated 60 million forcibly displaced people now live ... beautifully and movingly painted.