... astonishing ... turns out to be wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography ... a real-life thriller with a cruel ending ... Donner writes sensitively about Mildred’s travails while also describing how women were expected to serve a Nazi regime dedicated to the idea that 'the role of women is to populate Germany with good Germans' ... so finely textured that I can’t even begrudge Donner’s decision to narrate events in the present tense; a choice that can sometimes seem like a stagy effort to amp up the drama instead comes across as an effective device for conveying what it felt like in real time to experience the tightening vise of the Nazi regime ... Amid all the tension and the horror, Donner has an eye for stray bits of grim comedy.
Donner had access to material only family could find. She also, cleverly, compensates for what we don’t know about Harnack with what can be gleaned about her many acquaintances ... These other stories have the effect of opening up the book and turning what might have been a narrowly constructed biography into a much broader reflection on political action. They also add nuance to the question of what it means to resist ... Donner quotes passages from her sources at length, letting the reader dwell on facts rather than galloping through them. She does this stylishly, sometimes presenting events in chronological lists or highlighting fragments from her research as stand-alone text. The archival quality of the book, its enumeration and cataloging of sources, is both surprising for a biography—too rarely the site of literary innovation—and affecting ... Like the network it describes, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days is stronger for its decentralization. Its crowdedness serves as a reminder: The greatest acts of heroism are not always done alone.
Ms. Donner’s use of the present tense increases the feeling of inevitability as she unfolds her story to its horrific conclusion. This is a powerful book. A nonfiction narrative with the pace of a political thriller, it’s imbued with suspense and dread. There are occasional lapses in the writing, and sometimes the cliff-hangers are a little forced. But it’s a deeply affecting biography, meticulously researched and illustrated with photographs, documents, diary entries, smuggled notes, and fragments of a Gestapo questionnaire Mildred was made to fill out in prison on her last day alive ... Ms. Donner evocatively brings to life the giddy feeling of freedom under the Weimar regime in Berlin and how swiftly it eroded. Her account of the decline of liberties is harrowing. Her description of the day Hitler was named chancellor, Jan. 30, 1933, puts the reader right into the scene with its details of the Nazi victory parade ... Ms. Donner’s reports of the torture inflicted by the Gestapo are so gruesome I had to stop reading.