A dense but gripping look at a historical counternarrative that remains relevant and disturbing.

THE PLOTS AGAINST HITLER

A robust history of the German conspiracy against Nazism.

Orbach (History and East Asian Studies/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) combines intellectual inquiry with thriller dynamics, explaining that “resistance to Hitler…is a field in which historical arguments are not purely academic but wrought through with passions.” The author acknowledges both the admirable aims and ultimate shortcomings of the conspirators, arguing that their story, culminating in Operation Valkyrie in 1944, is deceptively complex, while the plotters’ moral standings remain subject to competing interpretations. Today, he notes, many doubt “not only the moral integrity of the conspirators and their motives but their military skill as well.” Orbach counterbalances this by examining the connections between principal figures as the Nazis took hold of German society. Initially, defiance developed among conservative iconoclasts from the military and the nobility. The author uses organizational theory to explore how resistance to totalitarianism moved from such secretive “cliques” to broader networks, potent but more vulnerable. Of these early groups, “most…were never involved in opposition to the Nazi regime, but a tiny portion went through a process of revolutionary mutation in the opening months of 1938.” A planned coup nearly occurred that year, during Hitler’s aggression against Czechoslovakia, but it fizzled out following appeasement. As one plotter noted, “never, since 1933, was there such a good chance to free Germany and the world.” Amazingly, a disgruntled lone wolf nearly killed Hitler the following year, an event that stands in ironic contrast to the increasingly labyrinthine networks. Orbach tracks the conspiracy’s rise and fall over several years; some participants were motivated by spiraling defeats on the eastern front, others through witnessing genocidal acts. The charismatic Claus von Stauffenberg linked the military, bureaucratic, and civilian cliques into a “wheel conspiracy”; unfortunately, its efficiency permitted the Nazis to punish most plotters following his failed bombing of Hitler’s hideaway. Orbach is thoughtful and careful in portraying a rebellion against evil that ended “honorably, perhaps, but in utter failure.”

A dense but gripping look at a historical counternarrative that remains relevant and disturbing.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-71443-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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