PositiveThe Wall Street JournalDavid Marwell has been thinking about Mengele for a long time ... Mr. Marwell’s mission in his new book is to peel away the myths that have grown up around Mengele and, strange as it might sound, to humanize him ... Mr. Marwell’s account of that investigation is gripping ... To me at least, though, Mengele decomposing is far less interesting than Mengele alive, and I’d have liked a bit more. How did he unwind at Auschwitz, or pass all those years in hiding? Might not more have been squeezed out of all those documents—date books, letters, an autobiographical novel—that he left behind? One thing Mr. Marwell makes clear is that Mengele never felt a moment’s remorse ... his sober and meticulous book generates all the sorrow and horror, despair and indignation one expects from such histories ... And in the end, his book is oddly reassuring. For Nazis of Mengele’s ilk, retribution was often mercifully swift. It’s a tiny bit consoling to know that Mengele’s punishment went on for decades and took multiple forms.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThis is a fascinating story, but Mr. Berenson’s rendition feels shallow. (Sure, Jewish kids in Massena were called \'Christ Killers\' afterward, but that happened lots of other places, too.) One wishes he’d drilled down deeper or, to put it terms that struggling upstate communities have come to know, done some genuine historic fracking. He spoke to a few eyewitnesses, but even at this late date, a more ambitious canvass (an ad in the local paper?) could probably have produced more. He ignores New York City’s four Yiddish dailies, which, manned by people who’d fled this very thing, would surely have had something to say ... But when Mr. Berenson does stay close to home, he begins to bring the horrifying events taking place there back to life.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewHis is one of the most spectacular odysseys of this or any other war, and \'odyssey\' is the right word, for with its tempests and furies and monsters, many of them human, Zamperini’s saga is something out of Greek mythology ... It’s also yet another testament to the courage and ingenuity of America’s Greatest Generation, along with its wonderful, irrepressible American-style irreverence ... Hillenbrand is particularly well suited to tell this inspiring tale. Apart from a rocky beginning (when, seeming to lack confidence in her main character, she hypes him), she is intelligent and restrained, and wise enough to let the story unfold for itself. Her research is thorough, her writing (even on complicated, technical wartime topics) crystalline. Unbroken is gripping in an almost cinematic way. In only one sense does it disappoint, but it’s important: that is, in its portrait of the hero himself ... virtually everything about Zamperini is filtered through her capable yet rather denatured voice, and we don’t really hear him. So, while a startling narrative and an inspirational book of a rather traditional sort, Unbroken is also a wasted opportunity to break new psychological ground.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Stanton’s style is like Marciano’s: blunt and unadorned. It nearly always works nicely. But whatever you may think of boxing, it requires periodic poetry. For that, oddly enough, you must turn to the photographs in Unbeaten ... Mr. Stanton is an indefatigable researcher (and seems to have spoken to every extant Marciano). I wish, though, that he’d pondered more the racial dimension of Marciano’s reign ... Mike Stanton’s fine biography may not bring Marciano all the eminence he once coveted—to become, as he put it before capturing the title, \'one of the two or three men that people remember in the boxing book.\' But it recognizes, and honors, the right Rocky.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Else, the chief producer and cinematographer for the PBS documentary, which first aired in 1987, was the perfect person for the job: He had a deep historical, personal and emotional connection to the story. But those same close ties also explain the problems in this likable but frustrating book. Or books, since True South is really two. There’s the book that the subtitle promises, about Henry Hampton, the charismatic and enigmatic filmmaker who put together the 14-part series. But embedded awkwardly in that story is Mr. Else’s own. This second book competes with, and distracts from, the first, and as a result neither feels quite complete ... As interesting as Hampton is, for long stretches in the book he inexplicably disappears. So, too, does the process through which Eyes on the Prize was put together. Instead, there are long recapitulations of civil-rights history. That’s understandable—they’re interesting and dramatic—but not original, nor what this book’s supposedly about.
Randy Roberts & Johnny Smith
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMessrs. Roberts and Smith, who’ve just spent more than 300 pages inventorying Mr. Ali’s duplicity, suddenly take him at his word. Maybe they should. Or maybe they too, like all those liberal hagiographers, have been seduced, at least a bit, by that mix of charm, hipness and sympathy that has made Mr. Ali nearly as untouchable in print as he once was in the ring. Blood Brothers is an engrossing and important book. But at the final bell, it pulls its punches.