The_New_York_Times_Book_Review__30_August_2020

Формат документа: pdf
Размер документа: 5.06 Мб




Прямая ссылка будет доступна
примерно через: 45 сек.



  • Сообщить о нарушении / Abuse
    Все документы на сайте взяты из открытых источников, которые размещаются пользователями. Приносим свои глубочайшие извинения, если Ваш документ был опубликован без Вашего на то согласия.

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 3
TO SUBSCRIBE to the Book Review by mail, visit nytimes.com/getbookreview or call 1-800-631-2580
Book Review AUGUST 30, 2020
Fiction
15 WE GERMANS
B y Alexander Starritt
R eviewed by Georgia Hunter
2 6 The Shortlist
E xperimental Literature
R eviewed by
D ustin Illingworth
N onfiction
8 W ar Stories
M ilitary History
B y Thomas E. Ricks
9 U NCONDITIONAL
T he Japanese Surrender in
W orld War II
B y Marc Gallicchio
R eviewed by
R ichard J. Samuels
1 0 FALLOUT
T he Hiroshima Cover-Up and
t he Reporter Who Revealed It
t o the World
B y Lesley M.M. Blume
R eviewed by
W illiam Langewiesche
1 1 COUNTDOWN 1945
T he Extraordinary Story of the
Atomic Bomb and the 116
D ays That Changed the World
B y Chris Wallace
w ith Mitch Weiss
R eviewed by Jay Winik
1 2 POLAND 1939
T he Outbreak of World War II
B y Roger Moorhouse
R eviewed by Timothy Snyder 1
3 LAST MISSION TO TOKYO
T he Extraordinary Story of the
D oolittle Raiders and Their
F inal Fight for Justice
B y Michel Paradis
R eviewed by Gary J. Bass
1 4 HITLER
D ownfall 1939-1945
B y Volker Ullrich
R eviewed by Peter Fritzsche
1 5 THE INDOMITABLE FLORENCE
F INCH
T he Untold Story of a War
W idow Turned Resistance
F ighter and Savior of
A merican POWs
B y Robert J. Mrazek
R eviewed by Tara McKelvey
1 6 TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
W ar in the Western Pacific,
1 944-1945
B y Ian W. Toll
R eviewed by Mark Perry
1 7 THE RISE OF THE G.I. ARMY,
1 940-1941
T he Forgotten Story of How
A merica Forged a Powerful
A rmy Before Pearl Harbor
B y Paul Dickson
R eviewed by Risa Brooks
1 8 THE NAZI MENACE
H itler, Churchill, Roosevelt,
S talin, and the Road to War
B y Benjamin Carter Hett
R eviewed by Fredrik Logevall
1 9 THE CHURCHILL COMPLEX
T he Curse of Being Special
F rom Winston and FDR to
T rump and Brexit
B y Ian Buruma
R eviewed by Benjamin
S chwarz 2
0 THE APOCALYPSE FACTORY
P lutonium and the Making of
t he Atomic Age
B y Steve Olson
R eviewed by Denise Kiernan
2 1 THE GREAT SECRET
T he Classified World War II
D isaster That Launched the
W ar on Cancer
B y Jennet Conant
R eviewed by Scott Anderson
C hildrens Books
2 2 World War II
E lizabeth Wein reviews four
n ovels and a memoir about
t he bonds that sustain chil-
d ren during wartime.
F eatures
7 B y the Book
J ill Lepore
2 7 Sketchbook
B y Sophie Lucido Johnson
E tc.
4 New & Noteworthy
6 Letters
6 From Our Archives
2 3 Best-Seller Lists
2 3 Editors Choice
2 4 Inside the List
2 4 Paperback Row
0
Try more days of Times delivery.
Find the delivery choice
that is right for you at
nytimes.com/deliveryupgrade The events
shaping
the world,
delivered daily.

4SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020 THE APPOINTMENT, by Katharina Volckmer. (Avid
Reader, $22.) In a furious comic monologue to
her gynecologist , the German-born narrator
of this debut novel riffs on national shame,
family secrets, sex and more with a disregard
for propriety worthy of Alexander Portnoy.
ANGELS & SAINTS, by Eliot Weinberger. (New Di-
rections, $26.95.) What do we believe about
angels? Weinberger distills the cultural
record in all its contradictions: They are im-
material, yet in the Bible they eat and drink;
they are purely good, yet in the Gospels they
sometimes engage in deception.
WOMEN IN THE KITCHEN: TWELVE ESSENTIAL COOKBOOK
WRITERS WHO DEFINED THE WAY WE EAT, FROM 1661 TO TO-
DAY, by Anne Willan. (Scribner, $28.) A culi-
nary historian traces the development of
American cuisine via the contributions of 12
female cookbook writers, from Hannah Wool-
ley in the 17th century to Alice Waters today.
HIGHER EXPECTATIONS: CAN COLLEGES TEACH STUDENTS
WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY? by
Derek Bok. (Princeton University, $29.95.)
Bok, a two-time president of Harvard, argues
that universities overvalue research at the ex-
pense of intellectual range and curiosity.
CLUTTER: AN UNTIDY HISTORY, by Jennifer Howard.
(Belt, $26.) Spurred by the painful need to
clean out her mothers house, the author medi-
tates on clutter as a microcosm of family and
society.
A Haiti correspondent once recommended Gra-
ham Greenes novel THE COMEDIANS to show me
what it was like there pre-Aristide, and how
Haitians coped with impossible circumstances.
Greene himself was a correspondent of sorts,
an Englishman who spent a lot of time in Haiti;
and its easy to see the main character, Mr.
Brown, as his stand-in. Brown, absurdly, wants to restore his
mothers hotel to its former glory while the country has become a
no-go zone for tourists, deep in the totalitarian terror of Papa Doc
and his Tontons Macoute enforcers. Dry sarcasm and subtle digs
are Browns answer to the open bribery and goonish violence. Yet
he and the rest of the characters, including a ragtag group of Cas-
tro-inspired rebels, press on with their doomed missions. The nov-
el helped reveal the horrors of Papa Docs rule to the English-
speaking world, but its themes are universal. When a brutal re-
gime erases all sense of morality, even the fools and the con men
become heroes. IAN TRONTZ, DEPUTY WEEKEND EDITOR
N ew & Noteworthy
W HAT WERE READING
0
REFLECTIONS, MEMORIES,
C ONFESSIONS
With more than 600 photographs
“HONEST, COMPELLING,
INTRIGUING.”
—DAN W. LUFKIN , Founder, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette
!e acclaimed play, !e Lehman Trilogy,
features Mayer Lehman, John Loeb’s great-grandfather.
Discover the remarkable history of the entire Lehman
family
in John’s comprehensive and beautifully illustrated memoir.
View the exclusive footage of John’s extraordinary 75th birthday celebration at Blenheim Palace on the bonus
DVD, along with historic coverage of the event, and read
David Patrick Columbia’s review of the party on page 647.
For more details, go to ambassadorloeb.com. HARD COVER $29.99
and EBO OK $8.99
available from AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, and APPLE BO OKS
IncludesBonus Video
See inside back cover
.
.
JOHN’S
PARTY AT
BLENHEIM PALACE
JOHN L. LOEB JR.JOHN L. LOEB JR.
A M BAS SA DO R ,
CHAIRMAN, WINSTON CHURCHILL FOUNDATION, USA
A M BAS SA DO R ,
CHAIRMAN, WINSTON CHURCHILL FOUNDATION, USA

On the Beach
TO THE EDITOR:
Elisabeth Egans Beach Reads
roundup (Aug. 16) was so funny.
I wouldve bought Sad Janet
based on the cover alone, but
now thanks to Egans concise,
clever review I can claim that
my decision is based on its liter-
ary merits.Also, Id planned to skip Kevin
Kwans Sex and Vanity regard-
less of the hype, but couldnt
resist reading Egans gentle
put-down, which reads like one
long borscht-belt-era one-liner.
K EVIN PARKS
N EW YORK

TO THE EDITOR:
Elisabeth Egans review of Kevin
Kwans new novel, Sex and
Vanity, doesnt mention the fact
that its a modern update of A
Room With a View. Reading
Kwans book (at the beach) after
watching the 1985 film of A Room With a View made it even
more enjoyable.
T
OM CARTY
S ILVER SPRING, MD.

TO THE EDITOR:
Wattages can be deceiving! While reading the Beach
Reads piece, I was abruptly
thrown off course by the sen-
tence The lamp tacked to the
side of our rental cottage was of
toaster-oven wattage, barely
bright enough to illuminate a
page. Why, because toaster
ovens typically use 1,200-1,400
watts, a common high-pressure
sodium streetlight draws 1,000
watts, and most folks can read
just fine with a lamp containing a
60-watt bulb. Hence its not nec-
essarily the wattage that makes
lights bright or dim. Otherwise, the piece was elec-
trifying!
M .F. COFFIN
H OBART, TASMANIA The Plutocrats
TO THE EDITOR:
Jeff Madricks Aug. 16 review of
The System, by Robert B.Reich, and Break Em
Up, by Zephyr Teach-
out, overlooks an obvi-
ous possible explanation
why working-class
voters in Michigan, Penn-
sylvania and Wisconsin
opted for Trump, and
apparently against their
economic interests. Rather
than being dupes, working-
class conservatives, like
wealthy liberals, may have
moral convictions that lead them
to vote against their economic
interests. You dont have to be
opposed to abortion or same-sex
marriage to recognize that these
unsavory views may sometimes
override economic concerns.
F ELICIA NIMUE ACKERMAN
P ROVIDENCE, R.I.

TO THE EDITOR:
There has been no decades-long
mystery why millions of white
working-class Americans vote
Republican. In 1965 Lyndon
Johnson proclaimed, We shall
overcome, and millions of
whites felt betrayed and began
switching parties. People have
long understood which of the two
parties is for whites. Trump now
makes it all too explicit. Racism,
unfortunately, explains far too
much of American behavior.
LAWRENCE HESS
S AN DIEGO
BOOKS@NYTIMES.COM
L etters
PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY CENICOLA/THE NEW YORK TIMES
6 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
Catch-22 has much passion,
c omic and fervent, but it gasps
f or want of craft and sensibility.
A portrait gallery, a collection of
a necdotes, some of them won-
d erful, a parade of scenes, some
o f them finely assembled, a
s eries of descriptions, yes, but
t he book is no novel. One can s
ay that it is much too long,
b ecause its material the ca-
vortings and miseries of an
A merican bomber squadron
s tationed in late World War II
I taly is repetitive and monoto-
n ous. Or one can say that it is
t oo short because none of its
m any interesting characters and a
ctions is given enough play to
b ecome a controlling interest.
I ts author, Joseph Heller, is like
a brilliant painter who decides
t o throw all the ideas in his
s ketchbooks onto one canvas,
r elying on their charm and
s hock to compensate for the lack
o f design.
F rom Our Archives
In 1961, the writer Richard G. Stern reviewed Joseph Hellers
satirical war novel Catch-22 on Page 50 of the Book Review, calling
it an emotional hodge-podge.
0
“In an era when facts are too often
di
sdained and discarded, Paul Krugman
wields them like a rapier. A brilliant scholar [whose] incisive columns are a beacon for anyone
who cares about public policy and progressive change.”
—DAVID AXELROD
“The most celebrated economist of

his generation.” —The Economist
W. W. Norton & Company
Independent Publishers Since 1923  www.wwnorton.com —DAVID CAY JOHNSTON
E C O N O M I C S , P O L I T I C S , A N D T H E
F I G H T F O R A B E T T E R F U T U R E
W I N N E R O F T H E N O B E L P R I Z E
PAUL KRUGMAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 7
What books are on your night stand?
Olga Tokarczuk, Primeval and Other
Times; Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six
Essays. And, for essays Ive written in
the last few months, Ive got stacks of
books on pandemics and loneliness and
policing and race relations commissions
and Kent State and the history of democ-
racy. But during the plague, honestly, I
have mainly been listening to audio-
books. Raymond Chandlers stories as
radio drama. The Audible edition of
World War Z. Pulp. Ive been working
on a podcast for the last year and trying
to learn everything I can learn about that
form of storytelling, as a matter of his-
tory, so, if Im out walking, I listen.
Though, to be fair, this started a long time
ago when someone gave me an iShuffle
or whatever that thing was called, that
thing you wore around your neck on a
lanyard, and I was teaching Tristram
Shandy that semester so I ordered the
audiobook and then, by mistake, I lis-
tened to the whole thing on shuffle play.
Without realizing it. Only later did I come
to understand this is what Sterne
wanted! In 1767!
Whats the last great book you read?
Blindness, by José Saramago. I read it
for a New Yorker essay I was writing on
novels involving plagues. Achingly beau-
tiful is a cliché, but it ached and it was
beautiful. Since then, during what really
does feel like an epidemic of blindness, it
keeps haunting me, stalking me.
What do you read when youre working
on a book? And what kind of reading do
you avoid while writing?
I read stuff written in the period Im
writing about. I also only watch films
made in the period Im writing about. I
like immersion. While I was writing If
Then, whose story runs from 1952 to
1970, I read a lot of late Cold War Ameri-
can political writing, James Baldwin,
Eldridge Cleaver, Norman Mailer, Joan
Didion, Claude Brown, Arthur
Schlesinger Jr., Gore Vidal, Malcolm X,
Theodore H. White. And Vietnam warreporting: Frances FitzGerald, Ward
Just, Neil Sheehan. I also read a lot of
1950s and 1960s political thrillers. Gra-
ham Greene, John le Carré, that sort of
thing. Len Deighton! And watched the
Harry Palmer/Michael Caine movies.
Any excuse to watch something.
Also, you didnt ask this, but most of
what Im reading at any given time is
stuff Im reading not for writing but for
teaching. Which is different. Reading for
teaching is a little like eating a meal and
trying, afterward, to write up a recipe for
every dish.
Whats the most interesting thing you
learned from a book recently?
Theres a line in Eddie Glaudes brilliant
new book about James Baldwin where he
quotes Baldwin, in an unpublished draft
of an essay, talking about how the 20 th
century begins with the smashing of the
clock . . . and reaches its terrifying cli-
macteric with the smashing of the atom.
I love that. The 20 th century: the atroci-
ties, the techno-swagger. Do people other
than historians have most and least fa-
vorite centuries? I dont know. Anyway, I
just love how that captured what most
distresses me about the 20 th century: the
smashing.
Whats the best book youve ever re-
ceived as a gift?
My mother gave me her childhood copy
of Little Women when I was maybe 6
years old. I actually cant stand that book
the story, I mean. But I love the physi-
cal book, the cover, the smell, the welt on
the spine, and that it was my mothers. It
still has a yellow hair ribbon of mine in it
that I used as a bookmark. I never fin-
ished it. It drove me crazy, the daffiness
of the 19 th-century girl.
Have your reading tastes changed over
time?
Good grief, yes. I can picture the ages of
my life by the poetry I was reading, at
each stage. The Adrienne Rich years! I
suppose that, when I was younger, I read
much more contemporary fiction than I
do now. Then there was a long stretch
where I read mainly 18 th-century fiction.
I suppose then 19 th-century fiction. Then
there was a long decade where, like most
parents, most of my reading that wasnt
for work involved reading childrens
books. Nate the Great! Elise Broach!
Day and night, Chicka-chicka-boom-
boom. . . .
Whom would you want to write your life
story?
No historian can possibly wish to be the
subject of a biography. 0
Jill Lepore
The historian, whose new book is If Then, reads a lot for her Harvard
classes: Reading for teaching is a little like eating a meal and trying,
afterward, to write up a recipe for every dish.
An expanded version of this interview is
available at nytimes.com/books.
By the Book
I LLUSTRATION BY JILLIAN TAMAKI
0

N D AY , N O V E M B E R 9 , 2 0 0 8
Independent publishers and
authors of not-so-indepe
ndent
means receive special
discounted advertising rates
every Sunday in The New York
Times Book Review.
For more information,
please contact Mark Hiler
at (212) 556-8452.
Reach an influential audience
for less.
Fun
and Fast.
Together at Last.
The New York Times’s
5x5 mini crosswords are now available in two pocket-sized volumes.

8SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020 IT HAS BEEN
a long time since I enjoyed a
book as much as I did LOVE IN THE BLITZ
(Harper/HarperCollins, 496 pp., $28.99). Of the
hundreds of books about World War II
that Ive read, this is one of the best. I
would welcome the author, Eileen Alexan-
der, as a fresh new voice, but for the fact
that she has been dead for nearly 50
years. This volume is a selection of letters
Alexander wrote to her lover during the
course of the war. They were not discov-
ered until a few years ago and are being
published only now. Her letters tell a rich,
multilayered story a wealthy and bright
young womans day-by-day experience in
London during the war, the growth of her
love for a young man and her insiders
view of a fascinating slice of upper-class
Jewish life in mid-20th-century England.
One of her closest friends is Aubrey Eban,
who would later become Abba Eban, the
influential foreign minister of Israel. Sim-
ply everybody she knows from Cam-
bridge University, where she took a first in
English just before the war, has gone to
work at Bletchley Park, famous nowadays
as the headquarters for British code
breaking during the war. She lunches with
Anthony Eden, dines with Orde Wingate,
chats with Bernard Lewis and argues
about politics with Michael Foot. One of
her friends is court-martialed and tossed
out of the Royal Air Force after losing his
copy of some top secret war plans because
he was distracted by a letter he was writ-
ing to Yehudi Menuhin about the proper
way to play the third movement of a cer-
tain violin concerto. To top it off, Alexander is a lovely writer,
reflecting her readings of great English
literature, especially Shakespeare and
Donne, but also Samuel Johnson, Daniel
Defoe, C. S. Lewis and Jane Austen. Imag-
ine how that last novelist might have
witnessed the Blitz, and you have a sense
of this wonderful book. Of her lawyer
father, she acidly notes that he has an
extraordinary power of making other
people unhappy from the best motives in
the world. And yes, reader, she went on to
marry her beloved, bear a child and trans-
late some of the detective novels of
Georges Simenon. Alexanders book is about intense per-
sonal love. ATOMIC DOCTORS: Conscience and
Complicity at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 304
pp., $29.95)
is about the opposite: the
decline into depersonalization by doctors
involved in the development of the atomic
bomb during World War II. Usually histories of the nuclear project
at Los Alamos, N.M., during World War II
dwell on tensions between the military
officers overseeing the project and the
physicists doing the necessary research.
In this striking study, James L. Nolan Jr.
looks at the disquieting participation of
members of a third profession, medicine. Each group had its own imperatives to
obey. Soldiers wanted to carry out their
mission under a veil of secrecy. Scientists
tried to engage in freewheeling discovery.
Doctors aspired sometimes to do no
harm as they faced the unprecedented and
little-understood task of dealing with
radiation in the form of fallout from the
worlds first nuclear detonations. But the
military was in charge, and it would suc-
ceed best in achieving its goals. Nolan is a sociologist at Williams Col-
lege, but more significantly for this power-
ful and readable book, he is the grandson
of James Nolan, chief of the military hospi-
tal at Los Alamos. Before the first nuclear
test, code-named Trinity, Dr. Nolan
traveled to Oak Ridge, Tenn., to warn Maj.
Gen. Leslie Groves, the chief of the Man-
hattan Project, about the possibility of
contamination by radioactive fallout.
Groves tartly responded, What are you,
some kind of Hearst propagandist? A month later, in July 1945, when the
first nuclear detonation in history was
carried out, it proved more powerful than
predicted, blowing a plume of radioactive
ash across south-central New Mexico. A
dozen female summer campers in the
mountains about 50 miles northeast of
ground zero frolicked in the strange warm
snow falling on them in midsummer. Of
the 12, only two lived past the age of 30,
with the rest taken by cancer. After the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in August 1945, Dr. Nolan was among the American military officials
sent to Japan to study the effects on hu-
mans and also to control the narrative
about that. The group saw ample evidence
that, just in the short term, Japanese who
had traveled into cities after the blast
were suffering from a variety of ailments,
including fever, diarrhea, nausea, destruc-
tion of bone marrow and lesions in the
mouth, colon and rectum. Yet, in Novem-
ber, when Groves was asked by a Senate
committee about radioactive residue in
Japan, he testified: There is none. That is
a very positive none.

Some Manhattan Project doctors not
only went along with the lie, they did far
worse and experimented on human be-
ings. The first person subjected to this was
a 53-year-old Black construction worker in
Tennessee named Ebb Cade, who had
been hospitalized after an automobile
accident with a broken leg and arm. In an
act reminiscent of the notorious Tuskegee
syphilis experiment, carried out in an
adjacent state, doctors injected Cade with
4.7 micrograms of plutonium without his
knowledge or consent. The message of this book, I think, is that
the American nuclear enterprise was a
reckless operation that often used secrecy
to hide uncomfortable facts and evade
accountability. The first lesson is that
government officials will lie for good rea-
sons, like maintaining wartime secrecy,
but also for bad ones, and that it is difficult
for outsiders to discern the difference. The
second, I think, is that no organization is
capable of really policing itself. Outside
oversight is essential, but not always
available. 0
Seeing war from the outside.
W
AR STORIES /M ILITARY HISTORY /BY THOMAS E. RICKS
THOMAS E. RICKS is the author of seven books,
including the forthcoming First Principles:
What Americas Founders Learned From the
Greeks and Romans, and How That Shaped
Our Country. He is a visiting fellow in history
at Bowdoin College.
One of Eileen Alexanders letters.
Navy enlisted men attempting to remove
radiation. PHOTOGRAPHS, FROM TOP: VIA THE ALEXANDER FAMILY; U.S. NAVY
0
Download now at:
ny
times.com/TBRpodcast The Book
R

eview
Podcast We speak
t
o the books
that speak
to you. Hosted by Pamela Paul.

The Book Review”
podcast leads the
conversation on noteworthy books
and the authors who write them.
The praise, the disagreements, theprotests, the prizes.
Join us for the latest in criticism and
discussion, featuring
Times editors and the biggest authors in theliterary world today.

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 9
E
VERY AUGUST, newspapers are dotted
with stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
accompanied by a well-picked-over but
never resolved debate over whether
atomic bombs were needed to end the
Asia-Pacific war on American terms. What
is left to learn 75 years (and with so much
spilled ink) later? For Marc Gallicchio, the
answer is in the domestic politics of the
United States and Japan, which drive a
narrative that unwinds less like a debate
than a geopolitical thriller. Unconditional offers a fresh perspec-
tive on how the decision to insist on un-
conditional surrender was not simply a
choice between pressing the Japanese into
submission or negotiating an end to the
conflict. It also traces ideological battle
lines that remained visible well into the
atomic age as the enemy shifted from To-
kyo to Moscow. President Harry Truman believed un-
conditional surrender would keep the Sovi-
et Union involved while reassuring Ameri-
can voters and soldiers that their sacrifices
in a total war would be compensated by to-
tal victory. Disarming enemy militaries
was the start; consolidating democracy
abroad was the goal. Only by refusing to
deal with dictators could Germany and Ja-
pan be redesigned root to branch. But Truman faced powerful opposition
from the Republican establishment, in-
cluding the former president Herbert Hoo-
ver and Henry Luce, whose Time/Life me-
dia empire presaged Fox News today. Re-
publicans fought Truman on two fronts:
First, they sought to undo New Deal social
and economic reforms; second, they ar-
gued that giving Japan a respectable way
out of the conflict would save lives and, at
the same time, block Soviet ambitions in
Asia. Conservatives believed the left in the
United States was more determined to use
unconditional surrender to destroy Japa-
nese feudalism than to confront Soviet am-
bitions future manna from heaven for
postwar redbaiters like Senator Joseph
McCarthy.
Gallicchio characterizes conciliatory
State Department Japan hands as dupes
of cosmopolitan Japanese who persuaded
them that Japans emperor was actually a
progressive who would help America build a
stable, anti-Communist East Asia. But New
Deal Democrats believed these experts did not know what they did not know about Ja-
pan. And prefiguring neoconservatives of a
later era, they insisted that only the deposi-
tion of the emperor as part of a full trans-
formation of the countrys political culture
would usher Japan into a peaceful post-
war community of nations.

The left-wing journalist I. F. Stone joined
the fray. He railed against reactionaries
who he said were determined to stir a red
scare to roll back reform in America, purge
progressive officials and deliver a condi-
tional unconditional surrender to their
friends in Tokyo. Gallicchio, the author of
several books of military history, sorts out
these players and many others with
great clarity, noting that Truman played
coyly with both sides as the war shifted de-
cisively in the Allies favor. Convinced that the Japanese would not
surrender short of a final, decisive battle
or (once the A-bomb was available) a final
incendiary event Truman was unwilling
to suggest American resolve was weak-
ening. He used the Potsdam Declaration of
July to remind the Japanese that only more
devastation awaited if they held out. He
understood that imperial cooperation
would ease the difficult task of disarming
5.5 million Japanese soldiers and he ulti-
mately spared Hirohito but he would not
guarantee the emperors status before the
end of the war. Japans leaders felt little urgency. The
imperial military had amassed an aston-
ishing number of troops for a desperate
homeland defense, while politicians fanta-
sized about a Soviet-brokered peace. Lack-
ing a guarantee of his safety, the emperor
supported the effort to reach out to Mos-
cow and busied himself with protecting sa-
cred relics. Even after the first A-bomb in-
cinerated Hiroshima, he asked the govern-
ment to seek Allied concessions, under-
scoring Gallicchios claim that Japanese
officials seemed uncertain of what they
were doing. With the Red Army suddenly deep into
Manchuria, Japanese leaders were weigh-
ing evaporating options when the second
bomb incinerated Nagasaki. What had
been chimeric was now clearly delusional. The emperor finally intervened. Over-
ruling his generals, he broadcast a decree
Gallicchio sardonically calls almost comi-
cally evasive because it omitted the words
surrender and defeat. While many Jap-
anese were confused and saddened, they
accepted the emperors most famous edict
to endure the unendurable. Some mili-
tary officers, though, committed suicide af-
ter a failed mutiny on what has become
known as Japans longest day. Gallicchio deftly recounts how debate
about Trumans decision persisted well af-
ter the surrender. In Japan, aggressive re-
forms early in the occupation were op-
posed by the same Western-educated Jap-
anese who had influenced Americas Japan
hands. These elites were keen on defang-
ing the Japanese military, but tried to block
land, labor and electoral change.
Unconditional documents how conser-
vatives back home targeted New Dealers
within the occupation as Communist sym-
pathizers and hatched revisionist histories
of Trumans motives, exaggerating the em-
perors antimilitarism. Their revisionism
was replaced by a New Left brand in the
1960s. Truman, some now argued, instigat-
ed the Cold War by trying to intimidate the
Soviet Union with Americas nuclear might.
In 1995, a half-century after the war, the
debate was reignited when curators at the
Smithsonian Institution tried unsuccess-
fully to use this account of United States
aggression to frame an exhibition in which
the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the
A-bomb on Hiroshima, was the leading ar-
tifact. Unconditional is a sharp reminder
of the power, imperfection and politiciza-
tion of historical narrative and of the
way debates can continue long after histo-
rys witnesses have left the stage. 0
The Decision
Detailing the debates over dropping the bombs.
B
y RICHARD J. SAMUELS
UNCONDITIONAL
T he Japanese Surrender in World War II
B y Marc Gallicchio
288 pp. Oxford University Press. $27.95.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
RICHARD J. SAMUELS directs the M.I.T. Center
for International Studies. His latest book,
Special Duty: A History of the Japanese
Intelligence Community, was published last
year.
President Truman reads reports on the dropping of the atomic bomb.
0
The All-in-One
R esource
for Buying,
Decorating, Organizing and
Maintaining Your Space
“Whether you are
r

enting or buying your
fi rst home or have
owned for years….
Provide[s] the secret sauce you need
to successfully navigate
the real estatelandscape.”
!BARBARA CORCORAN
“You can’t get it wrong with Right at Home.
Buy it, read it, and sink into the zen
of an orderly space.”
!JONATHAN ADLER

10 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
S
EVENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, on the bright
clear morning of Aug. 6, 1945, the United
States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiro-
shima, immediately killing 70,000 people,
and so grievously crushing, burning and
irradiating another 50,000 that they too
soon died. The numbers are necessarily
approximate, but even from within the
deadliest conflict in history, such devasta-
tion from a single, airdropped device
raised the stakes of war from conquest into
the realm of human annihilation.
For a moment the Japanese had no idea
what had hit them. But President Harry S.
Truman soon provided an explanation. Re-
turning from the Potsdam Conference, and
broadcasting mid-Atlantic from the U.S.S.
Augusta, a battle-weary cruiser, he said:
Sixteen hours ago an American airplane
dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an im-
portant Japanese army base. That bomb
had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.
. . . It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing
of the basic power of the universe. The
force from which the sun draws its power
has been loosed against those who brought
war to the Far East. Three days after Hiroshima the United
States dropped additional evidence on
Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered. After-
ward, as part of a clampdown on informa-
tion an extension of routine wartime
censorship little mention of realities on
the ground was allowed by American au-
thorities beyond the obvious fact that with
one bomb each, two cities had been
smashed. And so what? In the United
States the hatred for the Japanese far ex-
ceeded that of the hatred for the Germans;
racism aside, the Japanese had dared to
bomb Americans on American territory.
Days after the bombings a Gallup poll
found that 85 percent of Americans ap-
proved of the attacks, and another survey,
made after the war, indicated that 23 per-
cent wished that more such weapons had
been dropped before the Japanese surren-
der. Among those harboring no love for the
enemy was a reporter named John Hersey,
who had covered the war in Europe and the
Pacific, and had described the Japanese as
stunted physically and as a swarm of in-
telligent little animals. Hersey was over 6
feet tall, lanky, handsome, a graduate of
Hotchkiss and Yale, and a modest, retiring
man. He lived in New York, and was a ris-
ing star in the citys publishing circles. When the war ended he was 31, had re-
cently returned from a posting in Moscow
and had just won a Pulitzer Prize for A
Bell for Adano, a war novel set in Sicily.
Preferring fiction over straight reporting,
he spent much of his subsequent life writ-
ing novels.
But first there was this matter of the
atomic bombs. Hersey despaired when he
heard Trumans Hiroshima announcement
on the radio: He understood the ominous
implications for humanity. At the same
time, he felt relieved. The bombing, he
guessed, would end the war; one such hit
would prove to be plenty. He was outraged
therefore when three days later the United
States nuked Nagasaki; he called that sec-
ond bombing a criminal action. For weeks afterward little was known
about the consequences in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki beyond reports of impressive
physical devastation. When word of wide-
spread radiation sickness began to circu-
late in occupied Japan and the first West-
ern press reports slipped by the censors,
the accounts were categorically denied. In
late August 1945, The New York Times ran
a United Press dispatch from Hiroshima,
but only after deleting nearly all refer-
ences to radiation poisoning; as published,
the article asserted that victims were suc-
cumbing solely to the sort of injuries that
one would expect from a conventional
bombing. An accompanying editorial note
stated, United States scientists say the
atomic bomb will not have any lingering af-
tereffects in the devastated area. Less than two months earlier, a group of
United States scientists had worried that the worlds first nuclear explosion, the
ultrasecret Trinity test in New Mexico,
might ignite the atmosphere. That did not
happen. Yet in a narrow sense, the scien-
tists were right about lingering effects at
the blast site: Surprisingly soon after the
bombings, the residual radiation in Hiro-
shima and Nagasaki dropped to levels that
allowed the cities to begin to recover.
But that was only half the radiation
story. The other half consisted of tens of
thousands of people who had absorbed
dangerous doses on the mornings of the
bombings and were now sickening and in
some cases dying. The U.S. Army officer
who had directed the atomic bomb pro-
gram, Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, dismissed re-
ports of dangerous radiation as propagan-
da. I think our best answer to anyone who
doubts this is that we did not start the war,
and if they dont like the way we ended it, to
remember who started it. This was obvi-
ously a non sequitur. By the fall of 1945 ac-
counts of radiation sickness had become
indisputable even by Groves. Called to tes-
tify before a Senate committee on atomic
energy, he resorted to claiming that radia-
tion poisoning is a very pleasant way to
die. Hatred blinds people. Hatred makes
people stupid. John Hersey was different.
He was a New England sophisticate who
had attended his exalted schools on schol-
arships, and now stood as evidence that if
imbued with discipline and a deep educa-
tion in the humanities, patricians can be
molded as well as bred. He was physically
brave. As a war correspondent he had will-
ingly exposed himself to great danger. The Army formally commended him for having
rescued a wounded G.I. on Guadalcanal.
Characteristically, he explained that help-
ing the man to safety was the best way he
knew to remove himself from the fight. No
one believed it. War correspondents move
forward into fights. Hersey moved forward
a lot. But he was not a Hollywood tough
guy. He was quiet, self-effacing and empa-
thetic. Throughout his experience with
battle, and despite the slurs he had written
about the Japanese, he distinguished be-
tween the idea of a hated enemy the Jap-
anese as a swarm and the reality of
whatever individual was currently bring-
ing him under fire. Was he from Hakone,
perhaps Hokkaido? What food was in his
knapsack? What private hopes had his
conscription snatched from him?
After the United States dropped the
atomic bombs, Hersey wrote that if civili-
zation was to mean anything, people had to
acknowledge the humanity of their ene-
mies. As the months passed he realized
that this was the element still lacking in de-
scriptions of the devastation. It was a fail-
ing of journalism, and an opportunity for
him. With the backing of The New Yorker
specifically of the magazines founder
and editor, Harold Ross, and his colleague
William Shawn he flew in early 1946 to
China, and from there found his way into
Japan, where he managed to obtain per-
mission to visit Hiroshima. He was there
for two weeks before returning to New
York to escape the censors and beginning
to write. The result was an austere, 30,000-
word reportorial masterpiece that de-
scribed the experiences of six survivors of
the atomic attack. That August, The New
Yorker devoted an entire issue to it. It
made a huge sensation. Knopf then pub-
lished the story in book form as Hiroshi-
ma. It was translated into many lan-
guages. Millions of copies were sold world-
wide. Today it exists as something of an arti-
fact, a stunning work that nonetheless has
lost the power to engage largely because
the stories it contains have permeated our
consciousness of nuclear war. Few people
read the original source anymore. That is
unfortunate, but now 74 years after the
books publication, and 27 years after
Herseys death help has arrived in the
form of a tightly focused new book, Fall-
out, that unpacks the full story of the mak-
ing of Hiroshima. The author is Lesley
M. M. Blume, a tireless researcher and
beautiful writer, who moves through her
narrative with seeming effortlessness a
trick that belies the skill and hard labor re-
quired to produce such prose. Her previ-
ous nonfiction book, Everybody Behaves
Badly, was a purely literary work about
the background of Hemingways first nov-
el, The Sun Also Rises; though Blumes
attributes as a writer were fully apparent,
the book suffered from requiring readers
to care about Hemingway and his narcis-
sistic excesses.
Bomb Story
How John Hersey wrote Hiroshima and made public the toll of nuclear war.
B
y WILLIAM LANGEWIESCHE
FALLOUT
T he Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter
W ho Revealed It to the World
B y Lesley M.M. Blume
Illustrated. 276 pp. Simon & Schuster. $27.
POOL PHOTOGRAPH BY STANLEY TROUTMAN
WILLIAM LANGEWIESCHE is a writer at large for
The Times Magazine. A journalist stands near the shell of a building in Hiroshima, Japan, on Sept. 8, 1945.
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 11
O
N APRIL 12, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt, be-
loved by the American people, was sick
and depleted. Convalescing in Georgia af-
ter an exhausting summit with Winston
Churchill and Joseph Stalin about ending
the war and creating the peace to follow, he
slumped in his chair, dead from a cerebral
hemorrhage. He had tamed the Great De-
pression, lifted the hearts of Americans
with his fireside chats, forged a remark-
able Allied coalition and was victorious at
D-Day. Now he was gone. Eighteen days
later so was Hitler. All that remained for
America was forcing Japan to surrender. That job fell to the untested vice presi-
dent, Harry S. Truman. Salty, blunt and
decisive, Truman barely knew Roose-
velt, and in the previous three months had
met with him only twice (outside of cabinet
meetings). Yet after being hurriedly sworn
in as president, Truman was informed by
Secretary of War Henry Stimson about an enormous top-secret program to develop a
bomb of unbelievable destructive power.
With Countdown 1945, Chris Wallace,
son of the legendary newscaster Mike Wal-
lace, and today one of the nations premier
news anchors, tells the powerful story (as-
sisted by the journalist Mitch Weiss) of the
frenzied rush to develop the bomb before
Americas adversaries did, and of the ago-
nizing decision of whether to use it against
Japan. It is a debate that haunts us to this
day.
On one hand, the book reads like a riv-
eting novel as Wallace reveals the machi-
nations and internal debates among the
scientific community to devise a workable atomic bomb as quickly as possible. We see
Albert Einstein; we see Robert Oppen-
heimer; we see Enrico Fermi, each of
whom played a role in developing the
bomb, but then later came to regret the
awesome power they helped unleash upon
the world.
But Countdown 1945 is also a profound
story of decision making at the highest lev-
els and of pathos. The alternative to us-
ing the bombs would have been for a war-
weary America to invade Japan. Yet as
Wallace notes, the closer American troops
got to Japan, the more fanatical the Japa-
nese defenders became. American mili-
tary planners feared that the war could go on not for months but for years, especially
if a guerrilla war was carried out. And most
estimates believed it would cost 500,000 or
even a million American lives. Gen. Doug-
las MacArthur put it bluntly: An assault on
Japan, he said, would be the greatest
bloodletting in history.
Countdown 1945 is filled with fascinat-
ing details. Truman referred to Stalin as a
little son of a bitch. Little Boy, the atomic
bomb dropped on Hiroshima, cost more
than an aircraft carrier, and was likened to
the stuff of sci-fi and even Frankenstein.
The men of the flight crew carried cyanide
pills with them, in case they somehow got
caught by the Japanese. Incredibly, the
bomb fell nearly six miles in 43 seconds;
the explosion could be heard 50 miles away
and the mushroom cloud was visible 400
miles away. As for the Japanese victims?
The fluid of their melted eyes ran down
their cheeks, and for one American crew
member, a lively city . . . disappeared be-
fore his eyes. In the end, the reader is forced to ask:
Should Truman have dropped the bombs?
Wallace points out that more than 100,000
people were part of the bomb-making ef-
fort, the program was approved by Roose-
velt and over $2 billion was spent. It is un-
realistic, Wallace says, to think Harry
Truman would make any other choice.
Truman himself exulted after the success
of Little Boy, This is the greatest thing in
history. Was it? Wallaces superb, masterly book
lets the reader decide. 0
The Frankenstein Weapon
An untested president, an agonizing decision.
B
y JAY WINIK
COUNTDOWN 1945
T he Extraordinary Story of the Atomic
B omb and the 116 Days That Changed the
W orld
B y Chris Wallace with Mitch Weiss
Illustrated. 320 pp. Avid Reader Press. $30.
After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. ARMY/HIROSHIMA PEACE MEMORIAL MUSEUM, VIA REUTERS
JAY WINIK is the author of 1944 and April
1865. He was the inaugural historian in
residence at the Council on Foreign Relations. Such burdens are absent from Fallout.
The subject of nuclear war is too important
not to fascinate, and though we have
avoided it for 75 years, the possibility now
looms closer than before. Fallout is a
warning without being a polemic. In the in-
troduction Blume writes: Recently, cli-
mate change has been dominating head-
lines and conversations as the existential
threat to human survival; yet nuclear
weapons continue to pose the other great
existential threat and that threat is ac-
celerating. Climate change promises to re-
work the world violently yet gradually. Nu-
clear war could spell instantaneous global
destruction, with little or no advance warn-
ing. Blume reminds us that Herseys work
still best describes what that would look
like on an intimate level; like his original
reporting, Fallout is a book of serious in-
tent that is nonetheless pleasant to read.
There are knowable reasons for this, in-
cluding Blumes flawless paragraphs; her clear narrative structure; her compelling
stories, subplots and insights; her descrip-
tions of two great magazine editors estab-
lishing the standards of integrity that con-
tinue at The New Yorker and other high-
end magazines today; the oddball charac-
ters like General Groves who keep popping
up; and most of all, the attractive qualities
of her protagonist, John Hersey. In a world
sick with selfies, Herseys asceticism still
stands out.
Fallout does suffer from two flaws.
The first is the claim that the United States
mounted an important cover-up to hide the
realities of radiation sickness from public
knowledge. Blumes publisher chose to
hype this claim in the subtitle a mistake
and then, in a letter accompanying the
advance proof, went so far as to describe
the cover-up as the biggest of the century
and a cloak and dagger tale. It must be
embarrassing for Blume. Its obvious to
anyone who has been around the U.S.
Army that whatever ineffective obfusca- tion occurred during the months following
the atomic bombings resulted from the
same old stuff a mixture of authentic ig-
norance, reflexive secrecy and incompe-
tent military spin. The books second flaw
is the unnecessary claim that Herseys
work altered the course of history, changed
attitudes toward the arms race, and has
helped the world avoid nuclear war ever
since. This is just silly, though there are in-
dications that Hersey himself may have
believed some of it in his old age. If so, giv-
en his contributions to humanity he may be
excused. But what altered the course of
history was the acquisition of nuclear
weapons by countries other than the
United States particularly the Soviet
Union in 1948 and the certainty of retali-
ation should ever a nuclear weapon be
used again. Were it not for that threat it
seems likely that the United States would
have struck again against other foes
North Korea, Russia, China, North Viet-
nam, Cuba, somewhere in the MiddleEast? despite the suffering described so
powerfully in Herseys Hiroshima.
But against the scale of the subject these
are quibbles, and do not detract from the
excellence of Blumes work. She ends the
book with an exhortation that connects
with our time: The greatest tragedy of the
21st century may be that we have learned
so little from the greatest tragedies of the
20 th century. Apparently catastrophe
lessons need to be experienced firsthand
by each generation. So, here are some re-
freshers: Nuclear conflict may mean the
end of life on this planet. Mass dehuman-
ization can lead to genocide. The death of
an independent press can lead to tyranny
and render a population helpless to protect
itself against a government that disdains
law and conscience. She continues in a
similar vein, finishing with the optimistic
assertion that the opportunity to learn
from historys tragedies has not yet
passed. To which an appreciative reader
can only think: Well see. 0
0

12 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
A WISE (AND DIVORCED) friend once told
me that remembering the ending is a way
to forget the beginning. In war so as in
love: When we commemorate the end of a
war, we neglect the way that it began. Ev-
ery war ends, after all; but not every war
had to begin. When earlier this year Russia
commemorated the 75th anniversary of
the conclusion of World War II with a pa-
rade on Red Square, we were supposed to
recall Berlin in 1945, and the final defeat of
Germany. We are supposed to forget Brest
in 1939, where the Red Army, having de-
feated Poland together with the Wehr-
macht, organized a joint victory parade
with its German brothers in arms. It was a
German-Soviet attack on Poland that be-
gan World War II in Europe. That campaign is Roger Moorhouses
subject in his fine new book, Poland 1939.
As Moorhouse helps us to see in this exem-
plary military history, to begin at the be-
ginning of the war reveals where choices
were made, and how they mattered. Po-
lands decision to resist the Germans in
summer 1939, after Austria and Czechoslo-
vakia had yielded in 1938, was of world his-
torical significance. Polands resistance
forced Britain and France to honor a secu-
rity guarantee, and thus established the
kernel of the alliance that would eventually
win the war. If Britain had not joined the
war in 1939, it is hard to see how the United
States would ever have found a reason to
intervene in Europe. Polands decision was even weightier
than Moorhouse claims. His book focuses
on the battles of September 1939 rather
than German-Polish and German-Soviet
relations. Hitlers motives are presented
as a desire for war, which is true enough.
Yet what Hitler specifically wanted was
conquest of the Soviet Union. For more
than four years, Nazi diplomacy sought to
draw Warsaw into an offensive alliance
against Moscow. After the appeasement at Munich of
September 1938, Hitler redoubled his ef-
forts to gain Poland as an ally. Poland
would cede some territory to Germany,
went the proposal, to be compensated by
land taken from Soviet Ukraine after a
joint invasion. It was Warsaws explicit re-
jection of such ideas in January 1939 that forced Hitler to change his plans. Without a
Polish ally, he had to destroy Poland to get
to the Soviet Union. In spring his orders
came down for an attack on Poland, and in
summer for a pact with the Soviets that
would make war on Poland safer for Ger-
many. The arrangement was meant, of
course, to be temporary.

Stalin might have refused Hitlers offer in
August 1939: He could have defended the
status quo, as Britain and France urged. But
Stalin wanted territory, and so he agreed
with Germany to dismember Poland. When
Poland fought Germany, beginning on Sept.
1, 1939, it was defending itself, but also
shielding the Soviet Union. Poland was re-
paid by a Soviet invasion on Sept. 17 and
by Soviet propaganda blaming it, gro-
tesquely, for starting the war. Today, Putins
Russia defends the accord with Germany
that began the war, aligned the Soviet Union
with Nazi Germany, helped the Nazis de-
stroy Poland and defeat France and ended
anyway with a German invasion of the Sovi-
et Union. (An earlier book by Moorhouse
was on the accord; an excellent recent work
in German by Claudia Weber on the subject
deserves translation.)
If Russian memory of the war is clouded
by the Soviet decision to begin it as an ag-
gressor, Britain and France also have their
reasons to forget what actually happened
in September 1939. As Moorhouse re-
counts, Britain and France were forced to
abandon appeasement that March, after
Germany occupied and dismembered
Czechoslovakia. Both offered security
guarantees to Poland. Moorhouse gives us
heart-rending accounts of Poles who
fought gamely against a superior enemy in
early September, believing that allies were
on their way. But the Royal Air Force did
not respond to Germanys bombing and
strafing of Polish civilians by attacking tar-
gets in Germany, and France ignored its
obligations entirely (aside from a comi-
cally legalistic border-crossing). As Moor-
house suggests, France missed a chance to
turn the course of the war. With German
forces fighting in Poland, Moorhouse says,
France enjoyed a three to one advantage in
troops in an attack from the west, as well as
superiority in air power and in armor. A
French invasion of Germany would likely
have been more effective and less bloody
than the failed defense of France in May
1940. It certainly would have been more
glorious. Moorhouses main argument, which is
unanswerable, is that the campaign in Po-
land was a real war. It was not the phony
war or dróle de guerre of British and
French memory. It was not some magical
Blitzkrieg that scattered a racially inferi-
or opponent, as German propaganda
maintained. Nor was it a collapse of the
Polish state, as Moscow argued to justify
its own invasion. It was a hard-fought
struggle, with advances, retreats, killing
and dying. The heart of this book is the de-
scription of the fighting, which is about as good as military history can be. Moor-
house has visited the places he writes
about, and understands weaponry, tactics
and the structures of the German and Pol-
ish armed forces. As he generously says,
he relies on work by Polish and German
historians.
The reader can sense, for example, just
how grindingly awful it is to fight when the
enemy controls the skies. Again and again,
Polish counterattacks were crushed by the
Luftwaffe. Moorhouse makes a strong case
that air superiority was the key to the rapid
German victory. Polish resistance was
brought to an end by early October. Aside
from air power, Moorhouse stresses supe-
riority in armor, the role of geography (flat
plains and the ability of Germany to attack
from three sides) and finally the attack by
the Soviets (from the fourth side). Moorhouse uses personal accounts from
Poles and Germans to great effect, bring-
ing battlefields, burning towns and cities
and even the strafed countryside into clear
view. We hear the final words of Polish sol-
diers who chose to fight on against the
odds, even after they understood that Brit-
ain and France would not be coming to
their aid. They fought for a lost cause but
they were fighting for a cause, and not be-
cause it was lost. Moorhouse is rehabilitat-
ing an everyday kind of patriotism, of peo- ple who did what they thought was right in
conditions of terror and ever-growing cer-
tainty of defeat. He is seeking to restore
agency to Poles, to show that their coun-
trys policy of resisting Germany (and the
Soviet Union) and the willingness of sol-
diers and officers to fight were decisions
that made a difference.
Like all good histories, Moorhouses an-
swers an old question and raises a new
one. This book, although it fills a historical
gap in a way that many Polish readers will
find satisfying, also challenges the way
that official Poland today remembers the
war. If Poles were able to make choices in
the terrible circumstances of 1939, as
Moorhouse shows, one can reasonably ask
about the choices they made before then.
Poland 1939 is weakest in its discussions
of Polish society, which was mostly peas-
ant and about a third national minorities.
The reader is not introduced to economic,
social and national policy before the war,
which (as many Poles understood in 1939)
left the state and the armed forces weaker
than they had to be. The peasants were
less interested in the Polish cause than one
might conclude from Moorhouses book,
and Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews had
reason for ambivalence about a Polish
state that was defined in ethnic terms. In
todays Poland, the interwar years are ide-
alized, and the defeat of 1939 is portrayed
as a cleansing victimhood. Going back to
the beginning of the war clears away the
propaganda of Polands enemies (and al-
lies), but it also raises some questions
about Poland itself. 0
Poland, the First to Fight
The country resisted the Nazis and the Soviets even though the situation was hopeless.
B
y TIMOTHY SNYDER
POLAND 1939
T he Outbreak of World War II
B y Roger Moorhouse
432 pp. Basic Books. $32.
Polands decision to resist the
German invasion in 1939 was of
world-historical significance.
TIMOTHY SNYDER is the Levin professor of
history at Yale University and the author of
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and
Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as
History and Warning. His latest book is Our
Malady: Lessons in Liberty From a Hospital
Diary.
German troops moving toward the Polish border.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MUZEUM II WOJNY SWIATOWEJ, GDANSK
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 13
+
WORLD WAR II IN
the Pacific was a war of
atrocity. For the Allies, the conflict was de-
fined by Imperial Japans ravaging of Nan-
jing, the aerial bombardment of Chong-
qing, the Bataan death march of helpless
American and Filipino prisoners of war
and the sack of Manila. The Japanese were
shocked and traumatized by the devastat-
ing American firebombing of more than 60
of their cities, including the incineration of
Tokyo in March 1945. Not long afterward,
Henry Stimson, the American war secre-
tary, privately warned Harry Truman that
the Air Force might have Japan so thor-
oughly bombed out that the new weapon
the atomic bombs that would soon anni-
hilate Hiroshima and Nagasaki would
not have a fair background to show its
strength. The aftermath of the war brought a long
and uncertain accounting for these hor- rors, which fuels tension to this day. In
Last Mission to Tokyo, Michel Paradis
explores the debates about wartime justice
through an incident familiar to many
Americans: the air raid on Tokyo and other
Japanese cities in April 1942 led by Lt. Col.
James H. Doolittle, which was a daring
counterstrike in response to Pearl Harbor
and meant to demonstrate that Japans
home islands were not invulnerable.The
story of the Doolittle raid has been told of-
ten, from Ted W. Lawsons Thirty Seconds
Over Tokyo (1944) to James M. Scotts
comprehensive Target Tokyo (2015), as
well as the jingoistic, sledgehammer-
stupid movie Pearl Harbor (2001). Yet in
his engrossing procedural of a war crimes
trial, Paradis offers a more troubling his-
tory than some triumphalist American
chronicles of the Doolittle raid.
The real subject of Last Mission to To-
kyo is not the raid but the fate of eight
American airmen who were captured af-
terward by Japanese troops in occupied
Chinese territory. Three of them were giv-
en cursory show trials and executed as
war criminals in October 1942. At the be-
hest of Hideki Tojo, Japans prime minister,
the remaining five prisoners had their sen-
tences commuted by Emperor Hirohito to
life imprisonment, although they were
subsequently assaulted, tortured and held
in conditions so awful that one of them died
of illness and malnutrition. When the Japanese Empire surren-
dered in August 1945, it accepted the Allied
demand that stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those
who have visited cruelties upon our pris-
oners. The top Japanese leadership in-
cluding the militaristic Tojo, who planned
the attack on Pearl Harbor faced an in-
ternational Allied war crimes tribunal in
Tokyo, while lower-ranking suspects ac-
cused of conventional war crimes or
crimes against humanity were hauled in
front of numerous special courts set up by
various Allied countries. Paradiss book
tells how four Japanese officers held re-
sponsible for the killing of the Doolittle air-
men were tried as suspected war criminals
by a United States military commission in
postwar Shanghai.
Last Mission to Tokyo is as concerned
with the machinations of prosecution and
defense lawyers as with the Doolittle fliers
themselves. Paradis, himself a Pentagon
lawyer who defends detainees held by the
American military at Guantánamo Bay,
has a keen sense of the injustices, vagaries
and ironies of war crimes trials. His books
authority is the result of substantial archi-
val research. He gives a chilling account of
Japans scramble to find legal grounds for
executing the American prisoners. When
the Japanese War Ministrys legal depart-
ment concluded that it would be illegal to
execute prisoners of war, they were in-
formed that the execution would take
place regardless of the legality. If neces-
sary, the Kempeitai, the notorious military
police, would falsify the records to make it
appear that the helpless Americans had re-
sisted capture. Paradiss account points blame less at
the four Japanese defendants facing the
military commission than at the senior
Japanese leaders who launched the war,
including Tojo and other powerful mili-
tarists. An idealistic young Japanese de-
fense lawyer believed that the Japanese
defendants, like the Doolittle airmen and
the rest of Japan, were victims of the mili-
tarists, who had left millions dead for noth-
ing. As for Emperor Hirohito, by pardon-
ing five of the American prisoners, he had
demonstrated his formal authority and
thus implicated himself in the executions
of the other three. Yet while Tojo was con-
victed and hanged as a Class A war crimi-
nal by the Allied tribunal at Tokyo, the em-
peror was never prosecuted, his authority
seen by the Truman administration as cru-
cial for ending the war and then for legiti-
mating the postwar American occupation
of Japan. In March and April 1946, shortly before
the American military commission ren-
dered its verdict in the Doolittle case, Hiro-
hito facing public calls for his abdication or trial gave a series of self-exonerating
monologues to his aides behind closed
doors at the Imperial Palace. (In a richly
researched book, this is a rare piece of evi-
dence that Paradis overlooked, although it
only enriches his story.) The emperor him-
self, who feared the militarists and almost
never defied them, judged the three exe-
cuted Americans as innocent: In fact
there seem to have been antiaircraft guns
and antiaircraft machine guns at the place
attacked by the aircraft, so I think the three
men also were not responsible.
The war in the Pacific, which the great
historian John W. Dower has described as
a merciless clash fueled by racist hatreds,
offers painful opportunities for self-reflec-
tion. While Paradis avoids lazy moral
equivalences, his book, like any true war
story, has something to disquiet national-
ists of all stripes. For Japanese right-wing-
ers who denounce the Allies trials of war
criminals as victors justice, it is telling to
see the crude proceedings lasting per-
haps an hour that the Japanese Empire
used to condemn the three Doolittle air-
men. For American patriots, the book car-
ries disturbing reminders about the many
civilians killed in the American bombing
campaigns that razed Tokyo, Nagoya, Os-
aka, Kobe and other Japanese cities and
towns. Paradis, who writes with warm affection
for the Doolittle flyboys and celebrates
their mission, notes that Doolittle in-
structed his airmen to avoid nonmilitary
targets. Yet his book makes it uncomfort-
ably clear that they may well have killed
Japanese civilians. To this day, Japanese
commemorate the strafing of an elemen-
tary school in eastern Tokyo during the
Doolittle raid, where a 13-year-old boy was
killed. Paradis cites a 2003 study by re-
searchers affiliated with Japans Self-De-
fense Forces that concluded the school was
not hit by the bomber carrying the three
executed Americans, but that their plane
had bombed three homes in Yokohama and
strafed another home, killing an infant. Throughout the book, Paradis rightly
condemns wartime Japan for its wide-
spread use of torture. In particular, he
notes that the American press ran sensa-
tional stories about Imperial Japans use of
waterboarding, seen as a despicable prac-
tice of an outlaw nation. Today, with a pres-
ident of the United States who has recom-
mended that we should go much stronger
than waterboarding, it is important to re-
member that at least three of the captured
American airmen from the Doolittle raid
were waterboarded by the Kempeitai, a
torture then notorious as the water cure,
among other forms of abuse. Paradis re-
counts the torture of a Brooklyn-born navi-
gator: The water had slithered to the back
of his throat and then into his lungs, where
it had put the panic of death into him. The
State Department protested Japans bru-
tal and bestial methods and the American
public was outraged. That was then. 0
Victors Justice?
War crimes trials raise difficult questions for a legal system.
L
AST MISSION TO TOKYO
T he Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle
R aiders and Their Final Fight for Justice
B y Michel Paradis
480 pp. Simon & Schuster. $28.
The airplanes of the Doolittle raid, 1942.
PHOTOGRAPH BY U.S. AIR FORCE
Paradis has a keen sense of the
injustices, vagaries and ironies
of war crimes trials.
GARY J. BASS is the author of Stay the Hand of
Vengeance and The Blood Telegram, which
was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is writing a
book about the Tokyo war crimes tribunal
after World War II.
B y GARY J. BASS
0

14 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020

NEVER AGAIN. Adolf Hitler repeated that
slogan over and over. He did so from his
first election campaigns in the 1920s until
his final appeal to the German people urg-
ing them to resist Allied invaders in 1945.
Familiar to us when we think about the
Holocaust, Hitlers words referred to Ger-
man victims, however, not murdered Jews.
They incorporated the promise that the
revolution establishing the Weimar Re-
public in November 1918 would never be
repeated in German history. What are the
implications of Hitlers vow Never
Again? Never Again identified specifically do-
mestic enemies, so-called November
criminals, Marxists, Jews and others, who
would never be allowed to sabotage Ger-
many as they allegedly had at the end of
World War I or to reroute German history
into what Hitler regarded as parliamenta-
ry chaos and moral degeneration. The re-
covery of German fortunes depended on
crushing left-wing forces. As soon as he
had seized power, Hitler promised heads
rolling in the sand. Never Again also embellished the fan-
tasy that the Allies, acting in concert with
the November criminals, had very
nearly succeeded in eradicating the Ger-
man nation in 1918-19. Figures of Germans
rounded up, deported or exterminated and
reduced to ashes littered Nazi propaganda.
With this embattled worldview, Hitler led
the revitalized Third Reich with the clear
aim to pre-emptively and repeatedly strike
at declared enemies in what he considered
to be a remorseless struggle for existence.
As he explained to the Nazi elite in April
1944, Exterminate, so that you yourself
will not be exterminated! Never Again
preparedthe horrific scale of German vio-
lence in the years 1939-45. Volker Ullrich, a distinguished German
journalist, reintroduces Adolf Hitler, his
fantasies and designs, and his wartime re-
lationship to Germans, in Hitler: Down-
fall 1939-1945, the second volume of his
skillfully conceived and utterly engrossing
biography. In his account, Hitler emerges
as the central figure guiding the course of
the war. Hitlers commitment to expand
Germanys living space and his resolve to
destroy rather than defeat Germanys ene-
mies so that they will never again rise up
show how his ideas about 1918 directly in-
fluenced the conduct of World War II. For Hitler to achieve these aims, Ullrich
stresses his tendency to go for broke, in
part because the German leader was
afraid that he would arrive too late. This
audacity propelled German soldiers
across the globe with early and astonish-
ing success. It also proved to be his undo-
ing because it led him to overstretch
himself. The author argues that the turn-
ing point was not Stalingrad in January
1943 but the failure of Operation Bar-
barossa, stalled on the outskirts of Mos-
cow, in December 1941. By that point the
Germans had suffered more than 750,000
casualties. From then on, the downfall,
both Hitlers and Germanys, became
painfully clear.
All the major decisions of the war were
Hitlers, and these were often made on ex-
tremely short notice: the decision to in-
vade Poland and then Western Europe, the
priority of the push against the Soviet Un-
ion, the declaration of war against the
United States, the fateful choice to divert
Army Group A from Stalingrad. Everyone
is waiting with bated breath for the
Führers coming decisions is how Joseph
Goebbels, the powerful propaganda chief,
pointedly described the general situation.
Hitlers generals followed him, usually ea-
gerly, always obediently; opposition to or-
ders was rarely voiced, and the plot to as-
sassinate Hitler 76 years ago lacked all but
a small handful of brave, doomed support-
ers. Hitler was also the driving force behind
the Holocaust. Ullrich quotes one of his
henchmen at Nuremberg: He causes . . .
the motion that is transferred to figures
whose dynamics release other dynamics,
but the central figure Hitler with his sur-
prising impetuses always remains the ac-
tual motor of the rotating stage.
H ITLERS TOXIC ANTI-SEMITISM set the
pace and set the stage. He repeatedly re-
turned to his prophecy of January 1939 in
which he predicted the annihilation of the
Jews in the event of a new world war. By
February 1942 the conditional future tense
of the prophecy was expressed in the
present tense, and in May 1944, Hitler
spoke in the past tense. With every speech
he tightened the circle of complicity. Ull-
rich makes the persuasive case that Hitler
abandoned a territorial solution, in
which Jews would somehow be pushed
into the far reaches of Russia, for physical
annihilation at the end of 1941. (Either so-
lution was genocidal.) Goebbels set the
scene of a meeting of party leaders in
Hitlers private apartment in the Reich
Chancellery on Dec. 12, immediately after
Germanys declaration of war on the
United States, and with the Soviet Union
suddenly on the offensive: The Führer
has decided on a total cleanup of the Jew-
ish question. What had been postponed
would happen now. Ullrich accepts the his-
torian Saul Friedländers conclusion that
the line had been crossed from local mur- der operations to overall extermination
in newly purposed death camps.
Without Hitler, Ullrich asserts, there
would have been no Holocaust. But, he
adds, without thousands of accomplices
there could have been no Holocaust. Ull-
rich extends the list from the party appara-
tus to the Wehrmacht, and to railway offi-
cials, career diplomats and foreign collabo-
rators, as well as untold numbers of ordi-
nary Germans, both men and women, who
bought up the household items of de-
ported Jews at bargain prices in public
auctions. Ullrich attentively scans the crowd be-
cause it was the crowd that legitimated the
leader. Until the very end, astonishing
numbers of Germans retained faith in
Hitler. It was only when American and
British soldiers arrived, Ullrich notes, that
portraits of Hitler disappeared from of-
fices and private homes, copies of Mein
Kampf were removed from bookshelves
and uniforms, party insignia and swastika
banners were burned. But Hitler himself
ultimately lost faith in the Germans, invit- ing his nations apocalyptic self-destruc-
tion in what Ullrich calls a staged exit.
The people had proven themselves to be
weaker than their opponents. Already
when he launched Barbarossa in June
1941, Hitler gambled: We must achieve
victory or be wiped out. Going for broke,
it was all or nothing, Nazi roulette.
Ullrich concludes this accomplished bi-
ography with lessons about how quickly
democracy can be prised from its hinges
when political institutions fail and how
thin the mantle separating civilization and
barbarism actually is. The history of the
Third Reich teaches us about what hu-
man beings are capable of when the rule of
law and ethical norms are suspended. The
inhumane enlarged the idea of the human.
To these lessons we can add that it is pre-
cisely the allure of national and racial uplift
and the temptation to constitute us by
excluding them that diminish law and
morality. Readers and writers persistently
return to the rise and fall of Hitler Ull-
richs biography is the latest on a long
shelf. There is the force of Hitlers person-
ality and the consequence of the will of a
single individual, of course. But we also re-
turn because the Third Reich reveals the
power of public fantasies. The liberal mind-
set is not the default position. 0
No Hitler, No Holocaust
One mans toxic anti-Semitism set the stage for genocide.
B
y PETER FRITZSCHE
H ITLER
D ownfall 1939-1945
B y Volker Ullrich
Translated by Jefferson Chase
Illustrated. 848 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $40.
P HOTOGRAPH FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
When American and British
soldiers arrived, portraits of
Hitler disappeared from homes.
PETER FRITZSCHE is the author, most recently,
of Hitlers First Hundred Days: When Ger-
mans Embraced the Third Reich.
Hitler greeting German troops in Poland, Oct. 5, 1939.
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 15
A
S THE granddaughter of a Holocaust sur-
vivor, Ill admit I was a bit nervous when I
was asked to review We Germans, a nov-
el written in the form of a letter from a Ger-
man soldier to his grandson, recalling his
years on the Eastern Front. The book, in-
spired by Alexander Starritts own grand-
fathers wartime past, promised an unfa-
miliar and potentially uncomfortable lens.
But it was precisely this premise, and the
moral quandary it presented, that in-
trigued me. My dear Callum, the book begins, in-
troducing us to Meissner, the narrator, and
to his British grandson, whose commen-
tary is interspersed seamlessly through-
out. Meissner is a 19-year-old science stu-
dent when hes drafted into the German
Army. He spends five long years evading
death as a soldier and two more confined to
the gulag. His letter, however, focuses on
the fall of 1944, when his regiment has dis-
solved and the Germans, in retreat from a
rapidly advancing Russian Army, have all
but lost the war, their mental, physical
and moral disintegration almost com-
plete. I wasnt a Nazi, Meissner maintains
from the start. I never asked to be here, in
this uniform or this godforsaken country.
He is also explicit about his actions he
killed people, too many even to remember
and about the fact that his letter isnt
meant to be a plea for forgiveness. Im not
trying to clear my conscience, he assures
his grandson. Whats on it is on it. In-
stead, Meissner offers a layered medita-
tion on the ideology of the Nazi Party, and
on what his actions say about him as a hu-
man. Can you do evil without meaning to? he asks. The question will plague him
for a lifetime.
Starritts prose is riveting. It unspools
like a roll of film raw, visceral and
propulsive, rich with sensory detail and
unsparing in its depictions of cruelty. His
account of the war in the East is shockingly
gruesome. It was not like the fighting in
France, where German soldiers, Meiss-
ner imagines, found themselves in holi-
daymakers countryside, eating cheese
and visiting the chateaux and trying out
their schoolboy French. The war with
Russia was one of savagery, where seven
of eight of all German soldiers would meet
their deaths, and where it was not uncom-
mon to come across villagers strung up
from trees like swollen plums or starving
P.O.W.s resorting to cannibalism, cutting
strips of jerky . . . from our comrades
thighs. The barbarity, at times, is nearly unbear-
able but just when you think you cant
take it any longer, Meissner turns inward,
reflecting on matters as mundane as his
feet (the infantrymans hobby and an ob-
ject of daily fascination), which are very
white, soft and wrinkled, like vegetables
left in the sink, or as acute as his hunger,
a furious spirit trapped inside our bodies
like black smoke, or as gnawing as his re-
gret, which he still grapples with decades
later. I wear a mark of shame, he writes.
No matter what anyone says, it was me
who held the rifle, and it always will be.
His remorse runs deep. And yet, in ac-
knowledging it, he offers a shred of hope:
Where there is still shame, there may yet
be virtue. As I struggle to make sense of the polar-
ized world we live in today, We Germans
feels eerily timely. Meissners and Callums
puzzlements are ours: How do we hold
ourselves and our ancestors account-
able for past wrongs? How do we acknowl-
edge and atone for a nations violations?
Starritts daring work challenges us to lay
bare our histories, to seek answers from
the past and to be open to perspectives
starkly different from our own. 0
Man of Letters
A former soldier considers the weight of shame.
B
y GEORGIA HUNTER
W E GERMANS
B y Alexander Starritt
208 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $27.
GEORGIA HUNTER is the author of We Were the
Lucky Ones.
B EN JONES L
UCKILY, CARL ENGELHART kept a journal.
As a prisoner of the Japanese military dur-
ing World War II, he wrote in a spiral
steno pad while in a camp. The Japanese
Army had defeated the American forces in
the Philippines in 1942, and Engelhart had
been taken captive. In this notepad, Engelhart recorded his
dreams and how he lived, as well as the
horrifying death toll around him. As he re-
counts, his former secretary, Florence
Finch, smuggled money to him in the camp
and helped him and other prisoners to
make it through the war. Finch, the daugh-
ter of an American father and a Filipino
mother, was constantly in danger, and was
eventually captured and tortured by the
Japanese. But she never caved, refusing to
reveal the names of the people who worked
with her. After the war, she moved to the
United States, and in 1947 was awarded the
Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a ci-
vilian can receive, for the way she had
risked her life to save American prisoners
and perform other acts of resistance. She
died in 2016 at the age of 101. Robert J. Mrazek, a writer and former
congressman, uses Engelharts diary, to-
gether with Finchs letters, to construct
The Indomitable Florence Finch, a riv-
eting story of courage and sacrifice. Finch
comes across as impossibly good, almost
saintlike. The portrayal seems truthful
enough but makes it tough to warm up to
her. Engelhart, however, emerges as a viv-
id character, someone you root for and feel
lucky to have known even if only
through the pages of the book. Before the war, Engelhart gave Finch
advice: If she played hard to get with the
man she was dating, an American officer,
he would want her even more. During the
war, Engelhart continued to provide ad-
vice. And after the Japanese had con-
quered the Philippines, Finch, now a wid-
ow in her 20s, smuggled a note into the
camp asking her former boss if he thought
it would be acceptable for her to work for
the Japanese occupiers. She was afraid
that he would see her as a collaborator, but
Engelhart told her to go ahead. He wanted
her to survive. She started working for the Philippine
Liquid Fuel Distributing Union. Her job
was to maintain ledgers and fill out ration
coupons for fuel. Almost immediately, she began giving part of her earnings to an un-
derground courier who delivered them to
Engelhart. He used the cash to bribe a
guard and to obtain scraps of meat and a
few fish heads not much, but enough to
keep him alive. Later, she aided the resist-
ance by falsifying records, stealing from
her Japanese bosses and diverting about
250 gallons of fuel a week from the Japa-
nese. She also continued to send Engelhart
money, allowing him to buy food for him-
self and others.
Malnutrition was the leading cause of
death in the camp. But other dangers in-
cluded shootings, beheadings and disease.
The number of casualties was staggering.
In May 1943, Mrazek reports, Engelhart
and his friends held a memorial service in
an area to the south of the camp. The place
was called Bone Hill: Thousands of men
were buried in hastily dug graves, 40 to a
plot, marked by mounds of earth with
bones sticking out. Engelhart and the
other prisoners brought wildflowers and
sang Rock of Ages. Then they returned to
the camp. At some point, Engelhart was loaded
onto a ship, a vessel that sank. He and
other survivors were herded into a Subic
Bay tennis court, and while he was there,
he somehow managed to preserve the
pages of his sodden notepad by drying
them in the sun. When Japan surrendered
in 1945, Engelhart was freed. He and his
notepad had made it through shipwreck
and more than three years of captivity
thanks to Finch and the money smuggled
into the camp. Mrazeks book is a treasure,
an eminently readable tribute to the
wartime heroism of one brave woman and
the astonishing endurance of one deter-
mined man. 0
An Unsung War Hero
Florence Finchs heroics in the Philippines are brought to light.
B
y TARA McKELVEY
THE INDOMITABLE FLORENCE FINCH
T he Untold Story of a War Widow
T urned Resistance Fighter and Savior
o f American POWs
B y Robert J. Mrazek
342 pp. Hachette. $25.98.
TARA MCKELVEY, the author of Monstering, a
book about United States counterterrorism, is
a journalist with the BBC.
Florence Finch
Tortured by the Japanese
during the war, Finch lived to
the age of 101.
P HOTOGRAPH BY UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
0

16 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020 +
O
N THE MORNING of May 8, 1945, Gen.
George Marshall traveled from his Penta-
gon office to the White House to tell Presi-
dent Harry Truman that Germany had sur-
rendered. Im glad to hear it, Truman
said, because for a while there I thought
we were fighting the British. The Marshall-Truman tale, though un-
doubtedly apocryphal, was repeated
thereafter as a reminder that, during the
war in Europe, the relationship between
the British and Americans was so acrimo-
nious that Marshall, and his British coun-
terparts, feared their alliance might shat-
ter. It didnt, but a working knowledge of
the fraught Anglo-American partnership
remains crucial to understanding the Eu-
ropean conflict. The same is true for the
war against Japan, though for a different
reason. There, the inter-Allied feuding that
marred the war with Germany was re-
placed by a fractious competition between
the United States Navy and the Army over
resources, strategy and public acclaim. It is a credit to the historian Ian W. Toll
that this antagonism, played out through
the personalities of Gen. Douglas MacAr-
thur and Adm. Chester Nimitz, remains an
important, but not crucial, subtext of Twi-
light of the Gods, the third volume of Tolls
superb trilogy on the Pacific War. In truth,
as Toll implies, the MacArthur-Nimitz
competition was never as enervating to
the war effort against Japan as the Ameri-
can-British competition was in Europe.
For good reason: By mid-1944, the United
States war economy could provide both
MacArthur and Nimitz with enough of
what they needed so that the defeat of Ja-
pan, though it would cost more lives, was
not in doubt. Whats more, the Army-Navy
competition over strategy was driven by
geography and not personality with
Nimitz hesitantly agreeing with MacAr-
thur during a July 1944 conference in Ha-
waii (mediated by Franklin Roosevelt)
that an American invasion of the Phil-
ippines was a military necessity. Dispensing with the MacArthur-Nimitz
meeting in his first chapter (its a good tale,
but often told) allows Toll to turn his focus
on the Navy, his true area of expertise as
well as his enduring passion, and he deftly
completes the portraits of Admirals Ernest
King, Chester Nimitz, Raymond Spruance
and William Bull Halsey that he pro-
vided in his previous volumes. What emerges is a study as de-
tailed as it is unsparing, with
King, Nimitz, Spruance and
Halsey as pivotal to victory
in the Pacific as George Mar-
shall, Dwight Eisenhower,
Omar Bradley and George
Patton were to the victory in
Europe. And while the names
of these Navy giants do not
roll off the tongue as readily
now as those of their cele-
brated Army counterparts,
they should with Nimitz
emerging as the true archi-
tect of Americas Pacific na-
val strategy and Spruance as
his masterly, if sometimes
overly careful, tactician. The
rise of Nimitz and Spruance
pushed the irascible King
into the background, where
he took on his proper role as
the Navys key defender
among the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, with Halsey cast as
Nimitzs headstrong bad boy.
But Halsey was not Nimitzs
Patton: Patton needed con-
stant monitoring, but made
few mistakes; Halsey was
more pliable, but made mis-
takes galore.
The charge sheet against
Halsey is long and complex,
but is nowhere rendered
more grimly than in Tolls de-
scription of his pattern of
confusion, sloppiness and impulsiveness
in basic procedures, his slapdash habits,
his penchant to speak first and think lat-
er, his persistent promotion of his own
glorified public image and his question-
able familiarity with naval aviation a re-
quirement, you would think, in a theater
that featured carrier operations. But
Halsey cultivated loyalty, and received it.
Vice Adm. Roland Smoot, one of the Navys
more acclaimed fighters, called him a
complete and utter clown, while admitting
that if he said, Lets go to hell together,
youd go to hell with him. Halsey was al-
ways on the edge of being fired, and knew
it: I am most apologetic for the present
mix-up, he wrote to Nimitz after one foul-
up. I can assure you that my intentions
were excellent, but my execution rotten. As it turned out, Halseys rotten execu-
tion was nearly his undoing when, in Octo-
ber 1944, the Japanese lured him into a
pointless pursuit of a group of stripped-
down aircraft carriers during the Battle of
Leyte Gulf. Once Halsey took the bait, the
harrowing goose chase that followed left
the rest of the American fleet vulnerable,
an action that came to be known as Bulls
Run. Nimitz should have relieved Halsey,
but didnt: Firing him would have raised
too many questions with an admiring pub-
lic. Tolls expertly navigated narrative in- cludes a number of new insights (the kami-
kaze strategy, for example, was more con-
troversial inside the Japanese military
than is generally acknowledged), as well
as a new approach that hypothesizes the
struggle between sequentialists and cu-
mulativists inside the American military
that, as Toll argues, colored every phase
of Pacific strategy. The sequentialists,
Spruance and Halsey among them, em-
phasized step-by-step tactical triumphs
that would bring American forces to Ja-
pans shores for an ultimate invasion, while
King and the Army Air Corps commander
Gen. Henry Hap Arnold emphasized cu-
mulative sea and air operations the de-
struction of Japans merchant fleet, the
strategic bombing of Japanese cities
that, they believed, would make an inva-
sion unnecessary. Tolls familiarity with
this hitherto hidden tussle, while still in-
complete, is elaborate enough to be pro-
vocative, which new historical ideas often
are.
This makes Toll the fitting inheritor of a
tradition of writing that began with the na- val historian Samuel Eliot
Morison, who in 1942 sug-
gested to Franklin Roose-
velt that he be assigned to
document the Navys World
War II battles as a seago-
ing historiographer. Unlike
the Army, which sponsored
the 78 invaluable volumes
of U.S. Army in World War
II, the Navy has never
been keenly interested in its
own history, which is why it
hesitantly acquiesced to
Morisons request, and only
because Roosevelt thought
it a good idea. The Navy put
Morison in uniform, made
him a lieutenant command-
er, then dispatched him to
the North Atlantic and Pa-
cific as their official histori-
an. While Morisons result-
ing 15-volume History of
United States Naval Opera-
tions in World War II is cel-
ebrated as classic and de-
finitive, it is neither. Rather,
it is overly triumphalist
and long. Tolls trilogy is a
departure: It is exhaustive
and authoritative and it
shows the Navy in World
War II as it really was,
warts and all.
But no history of the Pa-
cific War can be complete
without presenting an inti-
mate knowledge of Japanese naval and po-
litical decision-making. Toll does this too,
showing a tactile command of the subject
that puts Japans war in its proper perspec-
tive as an unnecessary fight that, in ret-
rospect, looks like a suicide mission. For
the first five decades after the end of World
War II, American historians debated
whether the turning point in the Pacific
War resulted from the Japanese Imperial
Navys defeat at the Battle of Midway (the
preferred choice) or the Marine Corps vic-
tory at Guadalcanal which has recently
gained an increasing number of adherents. Still, time, reflection and a growing ap-
preciation for the sheer weight of Ameri-
can resources (and now Tolls three-vol-
ume work) have once again shifted that de-
bate. Japan lost the Pacific War, as Toll sug-
gests, from the moment the first bombs
dropped on Pearl Harbor. In the wars af-
termath, the Japanese people, Toll writes,
realized this when it was revealed that
many of those who took them to war not
only foresaw, but actually predicted, its
outcome and went to war anyway. The
decision, Toll writes, was based on the as-
sumption that the American people were
too soft to wage war and, once attacked,
would look for a way out. It was the most
egregiously false assumption in the his-
tory of warfare as Tolls trilogy elo-
quently shows. 0
The Finish Line
The final volume in Ian Tolls trilogy shows the Navy as it really was, warts and all.
B
y MARK PERRY
TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
W ar in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945
B y Ian W. Toll
Illustrated. 944 pp. W.W. Norton & Company.
$40.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEYSTONE, VIA GETTY IMAGES
Toll presents intimate
knowledge of Japanese naval
and political decision-making.
MARK PERRY is the author of 10 books, includ-
ing The Most Dangerous Man in America:
The Making of Douglas MacArthur. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz, Sept. 2, 1945.
0
3-6-1-6-6-7-5-1-3

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 17
P
AUL DICKSONS The Rise of the G.I. Army,
1940-1941 recounts the remarkable story
of how the United States built its Army
from scratch before World War II. In 1939
the Army comprised fewer than 200,000
poorly trained and equipped troops and of-
ficers. By October 1941, the countrys
newly refurbished Army had over a million
and a half soldiers in uniform and was led
by a revitalized officer corps. Dicksons
goal is to explain how this feat was accom-
plished before Americans knew they
were going to war. Dicksons book reveals some little-
known history about the Army and Ameri-
can society in the 1930s and early 1940s.
Some readers may be surprised to learn
that a New Deal program, the Civilian Con-
servation Corps, known as the Tree Army,
was run by the Department of War. The
men recruited for the C.C.C. never re-
ceived military training, but Army officers
supervised their camps, which they ran
with military efficiency. The Army learned
valuable lessons from the experience, in-
cluding how to manage a large influx of re-
cruits. Many of the Tree Armys leaders lat-
er became noncommissioned officers in
the service. The experience also demon-
strated to the Army chief of staff, Gen.
George C. Marshall, the virtues and poten-
tial of a citizen force. Also pivotal in the making of the new
Army was the establishment of a peace-
time draft in September 1940. The legisla-
tion was fiercely opposed by many isola-
tionist groups wary of being pulled into a
European war, and its passage was a hard-
fought victory for the drafts advocates.
That political fight was then revisited a
year later when it was time to extend the
drafts initial 12-month term of service. In
Dicksons telling, the peacetime draft was
essential to readying the Army for war.
Without it, the United States and its allies
experience in World War II would have
been dramatically different, with many
more lives lost. Major sections of the book discuss a se-
ries of maneuvers in the American South
in 1940 and 1941, including the important
Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Involving
hundreds of thousands of men, the exer-
cises allowed the growing Army to test
new formations and equipment and to ex-
pose its soldiers to the drudgery and physi- cal challenges of deployments under diffi-
cult conditions. Among the most important
lessons learned by the military leadership
was how to move and supply a large num-
ber of soldiers. After observing one of the
maneuvers in late 1941, the famed col-
umnist Walter Lippmann quipped that the
previous year the Army reminded him of
garage attendants out of a job, but now it
had the character of a serious fighting
force.
Marshall plays an especially important
role in Dicksons story as someone who
both understood and embraced the effort
to expand the Army through draftees. Un-
der his leadership, the Army established
basic training for all new soldiers. Mar-
shall also pushed for the creation of officer
candidate schools, which enabled the best
of the Armys enlisted personnel to become
officers. During the war, the schools gener-
ated more than 150,000 officers a year.
Marshalls keen appreciation for his sol-
diers well-being also inspired the creation
of the Morale Division to provide the men
entertainment and spiritual sustenance.
Under Marshalls watch, the U.S.O. was es-
tablished in February 1941, bringing movie
stars like Bob Hope to military audiences
around the country. This is an American story in several re-
spects. Dickson, the author of more than 50
nonfiction books, recounts how the impe-
tus for the peacetime draft came not from
the military, but from a private citizen
named Grenville Clark, a wealthy New
York attorney who agitated for the draft
with his many contacts in the business
world and Congress. President Franklin
Roosevelt and Marshall joined the effort
only after it was well underway. Various
pro- and anti-isolationist groups maneu-
vered to influence the legislation, in dy-
namics evocative of American politics at
its best and worst. Meritocracy is also a persistent theme,
especially in the tactics Marshall em-
ployed to ensure that only worthy officers
would lead the troops. In the course of the
maneuvers, over 1,000 officers were fired
or reassigned. The first significant officer
to go was a major general who was the
Armys senior division commander. Of the
42 corps and division commanders partici-
pating in the Louisiana Maneuvers, 31
were removed. The press also contributed to building
the new Army and not by accident. Jour-
nalists were prized guests at the maneu-
vers. At one, the military provided a space
with tables and typewriters that spanned
three-quarters of a city block. Marshall
and others hoped they would write stories
that would both generate pride in the new
Army and encourage Americans to spend
more to support it. Many of the journalists
did just that. Marshall also relied on popular culture
to seduce the public, as well as to encour-
age camaraderie in the ranks. He solicited
help from Hollywood to make films about the Armys needs to be shown in theaters
around the country. In early 1941, the serv-
ice disseminated a new field manual that
included a glossary of military slang, in-
cluding an entry for G.I., or government is-
sue. The narrative even includes a bit of ce-
lebrity. In July 1941, Gen. George S. Patton
appeared on the cover of Life magazine,
providing, as Dickson puts it, a face for the
new Army.
Also deeply American is the story of the
discrimination African-Americans suf-
fered. In segments scattered throughout
the book that mirror the segregated units
in which Black Americans then served,
Dickson tells of efforts by civil rights lead-
ers, members of the African-American
press and the soldiers themselves to en-
sure equal treatment. Dickson has a long
history of Jim Crow to draw upon in these
passages. In one particularly poignant vignette, he
relates the experience of Charles Young,
who in June 1917 was so talented an officer
that he was forced to resign as a colonel, so
as to avoid threatening the hierarchy of
white officers should he be promoted.
Dickson also writes about an incident in
1941 in which a division of African-Ameri-
can soldiers led by a Black officer, rather than the customary white officer, was dis-
invited to participate in a maneuver. Army
leaders apparently were uncomfortable
with junior white officers and enlisted per-
sonnel having to salute a Black superior.
All of the progress made in building up the
Army did not include addressing the en-
demic racism within it.
Throughout, the book evokes the ethos
of the World War II era, with subtle notes of
can-do attitude and pugnacious spirit. It
also in some measure reinforces the my-
thology surrounding World War IIs
greatest generation. Many Americans
have come to believe that there was some-
thing intrinsically valorous about the gen-
eration that fought the Germans and Japa-
nese. Dicksons narrative does little to dis-
abuse us that these men indeed were bet-
ter Americans. Dickson also approaches the story with
perhaps an overabundance of faith that it
will end well. He details numerous obsta-
cles in building the Army, but at no point
does the narrative veer too far from what
the reader knows will be a happy ending.
The book might have grappled a bit more
with the unsolved problems and failures of
character that plagued the effort along the
way. Still, reading about the birth of the coun-
trys citizen Army before World War II is a
profoundly heartening experience. With
all they are facing today, Americans need
Dicksons reminder of this momentous ac-
complishment. 0
Building an Army From Scratch
How did America transform its military before World War II?
B
y RISA BROOKS
THE RISE OF THE G.I. ARMY, 1940-1941
T he Forgotten Story of How America
F orged a Powerful Army Before Pearl
H arbor
B y Paul Dickson
Illustratd. 448 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $30.
Gen. George C. Marshall surrounded by members of his general staff, November 1941.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHOTOQUEST/GETTY IMAGES
Dicksons book reveals
little-known history about the
Army and American society in
the 1930s and early 1940s.
RISA BROOKS is the Allis Chalmers associate
professor of political science at Marquette
University.
0

18 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
I
TS A REMARKABLE THING about World
War II in Europe that this enormously de-
structive conflagration, which killed tens
of millions and left embers that smoldered
through the end of the century and beyond,
happened because one man willed it to
happen. True, one can point to deeper,
structural causes of the conflict, but funda-
mentally, war began on Sept. 1, 1939, be-
cause Adolf Hitler desired it, lusted for it,
brooked no opposition from inside or out-
side Germany to launching it. He had
hoped at first to keep the struggle a local
affair, between Germany and Poland. But
even when it became clear that he would
very likely have to fight Britain and France
as well, he sent his soldiers across the Pol-
ish frontier anyway. The wars proximate origins are the sub-
ject of Benjamin Carter Hetts fast-moving,
absorbing and aptly titled The Nazi Men-
ace. A historian of modern Germany who
has written several works on the Nazi era,
Hett concentrates here substantially on developments within the German govern-
ment from late 1937 onward, but he also ex-
amines the thinking of leaders in Britain,
the Soviet Union and the United States,
and to a lesser extent those in the other
principal capitals: Paris, Warsaw, Prague,
Vienna and Rome.
Along the way, thanks to the authors
knack for the capsule biography, we gain
fascinating insights into less obvious fig-
ures, among them Hugh Dowding, an ec-
centric and canny architect of Britains air
defense network; Ernst von Weizsäcker, a
senior German diplomat torn between his
opposition to a general war and his support
for German expansion; and Dorothy
Thompson, the ferociously anti-Nazi
American columnist and radio broadcast-
er. From the moment Hitler began his sa-
ber-rattling, we learn, numerous German
officials sought to dissuade him from tak-
ing aggressive action. Any such move,
they believed, risked a wider war, which
Germany would probably lose. Hitler and
his loyalists were unmoved. In early 1938,
two highly placed dissidents, Field Mar-
shal Werner von Blomberg, the minister
for war, and Gen. Werner von Fritsch, the
army chief of staff, were forced out, the lat-
ter on a trumped-up homosexuality
charge. Later, following more purges and a
broad military reorganization that gave
Hitler firm control of the armed forces, in-
ternal doubters sought in vain to arrest the
seemingly inexorable slide to war. They
were undone by their own timidity and ca-
reerist ambitions, and by Hitlers stunning run of diplomatic successes most nota-
bly at the Munich conference in September
1938, where Britains Neville Chamberlain
and Frances Édouard Daladier agreed to
cede to Germany the strategically vital
and mostly German-speaking Sude-
tenland region of Czechoslovakia. (The
Czechs were not consulted.)
Chamberlain, the second most impor-
tant actor in the lead-up to war curi-
ously, he is left out of the books subtitle in
favor of his successor, Winston Churchill
tried desperately to negotiate a lasting so-
lution to the crisis. In keeping with much
recent scholarship, Hett presents Cham-
berlain as a complex figure, intelligent and
composed but also vainglorious and gull-
ible. After a meeting at Hitlers Alpine re-
treat at Berchtesgaden in September 1938,
Chamberlain wrote that he had estab-
lished a certain confidence which was my
aim and on my side in spite of the hardness
& ruthlessness I thought I saw in [Hitlers]
face I got the impression that here was a
man who could be relied upon when he had
given his word. Even after March 1939, when Hitlers
seizure of most of the rest of Czechoslo-
vakia showed the bankruptcy of Chamber-
lains appeasement strategy, he clung to
the belief that the Führer could be rea-
soned with. That Hitler might actually de-
sire war was to the prime ministers ratio-
nal way of thinking impossible, especially
following the mass carnage of World War I.
Still, with Hitler now turning his murder-
ous gaze toward Poland, the Chamberlain
government shifted to a strategy of deter-
rence, joining with France to guarantee
Polish and later Romanian independence.
It also stepped up preparations for war, in-
troducing peacetime conscription for the
first time in British history and commenc-
ing Anglo-French military staff talks. War
came a few months later. For the Western leaders and their popu-
lations, the second half of the 1930s repre-
sented, Hett argues, a crisis of democra-
cy. In the minds of influential observers
like Churchill and the American columnist
Walter Lippmann, it seemed an open ques-
tion whether the major democracies could
respond effectively to the threat from to-
talitarian states that were primed for war
and had ready access to resources. Could
Western leaders mobilize their competing
interest groups and fickle constituents to
support costly overseas commitments?
What if these same constituents fell under
the sway of fascism, with its racist and na-
tionalist appeals? Harold L. Ickes, the irascible and perspi-
cacious American secretary of the interior,
saw the danger. Fascism is an ever- present threat, even here in America, he
warned in a speech before the Cleveland
Zionist Society at the end of 1938. Every
intelligent man and woman knows that the
danger that threatens America is the same
that has already engulfed other countries.
Ickess fear was not realized, not then lit-
tle by little, Hett writes, democratic lead-
ers in Washington and London found their
footing. They were able to turn back the to-
talitarian threats while upholding what
Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of
the Union address called the Four Free-
doms: freedom of speech and expression,
freedom of worship, freedom from want
and freedom from fear.
Today, we are again in a crisis of democ-
racy, a point Hett stresses from his opening
pages. Perhaps he does so with more in-
sistence than necessary, as if uncertain his
readers will grasp the parallels between
the 1930s and our own day without his firm
direction. Still, its hard to disagree with his
overarching judgment: Above all, the world of the 1930s was
wracked by a fundamental conflict: Should
the world system be open and interna-
tional, based on democracy, free trade and
rights for all, anchored in law? Or should
the world be organized along racial and na-
tional lines, with dominant groups owing
nothing to minorities and closing off their
economic space as much as possible to the
outer world? Today we face this very con-
flict once again. At times, Hetts admirable effort at con-
cision gets the better of him. His cast of
characters is huge (the glossary of names
at the start of the book runs to 12 pages and
contains over 100 individuals). But many
of the players make barely a cameo, and
important developments pass in a blur, or
are absent altogether. The French are
mostly offstage, for example, as are the
Italians. We learn little about the connec-
tion between European events and Japans
expansionist moves in the Far East. Most
perplexing of all in a book about the wars
origins, the intense drama of the final week
of peace, when nerves were on edge in all
the key capitals, is barely covered, as Hett
seems impatient to get to the spring of 1940
and Churchills ascension to power along
with the Nazi attack in the west. In the end, we come back to Hitler. As
The Nazi Menace shows anew, no do-
mestic or international pressures forced
him into war. He chose it, and some part of
him understood right away that he was
getting more than he bargained for. On the
morning of Sept. 3, 1939, he and his obse-
quious foreign minister, Joachim von
Ribbentrop, listened intently as the inter-
preter Paul Schmidt read to them the text
of a British ultimatum demanding that
German forces be withdrawn from Poland.
When I finished, Schmidt wrote in his
memoirs, there was complete silence.
Hitler sat immobilized, gazing before him.
Finally, he looked up, turned to Ribbentrop
and said bitterly, What now? 0
Spoiling for a Fight
War began on Sept. 1, 1939, because Adolf Hitler desired it, even lusted for it.
B
y FREDRIK LOGEVALL
THE NAZI MENACE
H itler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the
R oad to War
B y Benjamin Carter Hett
416 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $29.99.
Hitler addresses his followers, May 1937.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
Numerous advisers sought to
dissuade Hitler from taking
Germany into war.
FREDRIK LOGEVALL,a historian at Harvard, is
the author, most recently, of JFK: Coming of
Age in the American Century, 1917-1956.
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 19
T
WO VIGNETTES PRESENT seemingly anti-
t hetical views of Anglo-American rela-
t ions since World War II. The first is a 1952
s atirical primer by the British humorist
S tephen Potter on the so-called special re-
l ationship between the United States and
B ritain: First lessons concentrate on the
n ecessity of always using the same
p hrases, and using them again and again.
. . . We have a lot in common. After all, we
c ome from the same stock. We have a lot
t o learn from each other.
T he second is the denouement of the
1 979 BBC adaptation of John le Carrés
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, in which the
w ell-born, patriotic, British intelligence
o fficer, bewailing what he sees as his coun-
t rys sycophantic dependence on the
U nited States, explains that he had re-
s olved to become a Soviet agent when he
r ealized that the British had become noth-
i ng more than Americas street walkers.
Although Ian Buruma, the prolific au-
t hor of Anglomania and the former edi-
t or of The New York Review of Books, cites
n either artifact in his new book, The
C hurchill Complex, he aims to show how
t he cultivation of the relationship Potter
l ampooned and that Buruma calls a
curse led to one similar to what le
C arrés mole laments.
The Churchill Complex examines the
i nvented tradition that is the special rela-
t ionship. The stock phrases used to define
t hat liaison common heritage, com-
m on values and kinship of ideals, as
w ell as the self-flattering conviction that
when the United States and the United
K ingdom stand together . . . people around
t he world are more secure and they are
m ore prosperous have been the rheto-
r ical expression of Britains ongoing effort
t o bind itself to American power, and of
W ashingtons ongoing desire to keep Brit-
a in, a diminished but still useful ally, on
s ide. The quotations, strikingly reminis-
c ent of Potters sendup, happen to be from
B arack Obama, but they are all but identi-
c al to the intonations of every president
a nd prime minister since 1941.
T he special relationship was hardly a
n atural condition based in profound kin-
s hip. Rather, it was born of Britains des-
p eration and of Americas realization that
i ts security would be imperiled by British
d efeat or surrender. The contours of the
G rand Alliance fully and perhaps inevita-
b ly reflected the gross imbalance of mili- t
ary and economic power between its
m embers. Holding virtually all the cards,
W ashington pursued its interests by re-
l entlessly extracting maximum conces-
s ions from a forlorn and increasingly im-
p otent Britain. Yielding naval-basing
r ights to an America bent on achieving
p ostwar global dominance, forfeiting the
n uclear program it had carefully built to
e xclusive American control and submit-
t ing to the all but extortionate terms
W ashington demanded for the financial
a ssistance needed to prosecute the war,
L ondon had to abide by the terms of a
f orced and unequal mar-
r iage.
W hile Buruma recounts
t he vision of the warm, open
p artnership between Frank-
l in Roosevelt and Winston
C hurchill that nearly every
p ostwar American and
B ritish leader has solemnly
i nvoked, that relationship
w as perforce defined by
t heir nations uneven alli-
a nce, with Churchill com-
p elled to play the importu-
n ate suitor wooing a con-
g enitally manipulative, dis-
t ant and noncommittal
R oosevelt. As Americas
s upplicant, Churchill con-
t rived the special relation-
s hip, a sentimentalized in-
t ernational bond based not
i n shifting national interests
b ut on permanently shared
v alues. In the latter years of
t he war and in the immedi-
a te postwar period, Church-
i ll expanded the ambit and
m eaning of that concept to
f ar-reaching effect.
B oth the United States
a nd Britain conducted their wartime rela-
t ionship cognizant of their postwar inter-
n ational positions. Here the two countries
i nterests diverged. Outwardly far more
h ostile to British colonialism than to Sovi-
e t totalitarianism, Roosevelt made clear
h is expectation that Britains empire
w ould be liquidated. More generally,
W ashington intended to lead an economi-
c ally liberal global order, a vision inimical
t o Britains imperial preference system
a nd its role as a world power. Churchill
w as enamored of that role and was unwill-
i ng, indeed unable, to countenance its end.
B ut he was also acutely aware of Britains
d iminished political and economic posi-
t ion, and therefore of the impossibility of
i ndependently sustaining that role. If it
w ere to continue to define itself as a global
p ower, Britain would have to glom onto
A merican hegemony.
T o that end, Churchill proposed to a dis-
m issive Roosevelt a series of desperate
a nd fancifully detailed schemes includ-
i ng a literal merger of the British Empire
a nd the United States (with perhaps
some form of common citizenship) and a
p ostwar Anglo-American condominium in
w hich the British and Americans, bound in
familial closeness, would jointly police
t he world. Finally, when out of office in
1 946, Churchill saw that the emerging So-
v iet threat gave Britain the opportunity to
h arness itself to the United States inter-
n ational preponderance, and in fact to con-
f late Americas and Britains global roles.
I n warning of an iron curtain, Churchill
e ssentially resubmitted his plan for a Pax
A nglo-Americana.
B urumas account perhaps unintention-
a lly demonstrates that permanently yok-
i ng Britains global role to Americas has
u nnecessarily made permanent Britains
s ubservient wartime relationship to the
U nited States. More explicitly, Buruma
m aintains that Londons ongoing attach-
m ent to the special relationship has
t hwarted Britain from pursuing what he
s ees as its proper international role.
F or the past 80 years, Labour and Tory
p rime ministers alike have been almost as
u nwilling as Churchill to forsake their vi-
s ion of Britain as a global power. Even the
L abour prime minister Harold Wilson, the
a ntithesis of an imperial statesman, in-
s isted that Britains frontiers were on the
H imalayas. And because only Londons
t ight ties to Washington bestow on Britain
i ts great power status, successive British
g overnments have felt compelled to as-
s ent to Washingtons policies, even when
L ondon has thought those policies unwise
o r dangerous. Moreover, although the
U nited States regularly indulged in ful-
s ome and cost-free rhetoric in praise of the
s pecial relationship, it asserted its domi- n
ance whenever that connection con-
f licted with American interests.
B urumas principal objection to the spe-
c ial relationship is that it distracted Brit-
a in from playing a key part in Europes
e ver closer union. But in fact many devo-
t ees of the alliance, such as Harold
M acmillan, Tony Blair and David Camer-
o n, have also been among the strongest
a dvocates of closer integration with Eu-
r ope. The special relationship in fact pre-
s cribed it: Washington pressed Britain to
i nvolve itself in Europe to enhance Ameri-
c as goal of bolstering Western Europe as a
self-sustaining pillar in the
C old War. Indeed, the desire
t o please Washington was
a mong Macmillans main
r easons for applying for
m embership in the European
E conomic Community.
M oreover, the most promi-
n ent postwar figures who op-
p osed Britains entry into Eu-
r ope Aneurin Bevan, Rich-
a rd Crossman, Barbara Cas-
t le, Michael Foot, Enoch
P owell, Tony Benn were
Little Englanders and
t herefore also hostile to the
s pecial relationship.
In assessing the British
d rive to play an expansive
r ole on the international
s tage, its helpful to remem-
b er that, to its British adher-
e nts, the special relationship
i s a means toward that end,
n ot an end in itself, and that
t he two recent prime min-
i sters most ardent in pursu-
i ng that role Blair and
C ameron were devoted to
b oth the special relationship
a nd to the E.U. In pursuit of
w hat Blair has celebrated as the ambitious
p olicy of regime change, they each com-
m itted Britain to accompany the United
S tates in military interventions in Koso-
v o, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (and
p ressed for intervention in Syria, though
t hat was stymied by Parliamentary oppo-
s ition).
B ut neither leader undertook those in-
t erventions to sustain the special relation-
s hip. Rather, that relationship allowed
t hem to assume the global role they cov-
e ted. Buruma rightly characterizes Blair
a s a true believer in the trans-Atlantic
d octrine of muscular liberal intervention-
i sm; Cameron has described himself as
the heir to Blair. Clearly, many Britons in
b oth parties share Burumas skepticism
t oward the international role Blair and
C ameron have pursued, but Buruma, who
a lso conspicuously wears the mantle of
a nti-Brexit cosmopolitan, probably would-
n t plump, as some would, for a Little Eng-
l ander revival to counter the intervention-
i sm that the special relationship has en-
a bled. 0
With Friends Like These
Whats behind the special relationship between the U.S. and Britain?
B
y BENJAMIN SCHWARZ
BENJAMIN SCHWARZ is the former literary and
national editor of The Atlantic.
T HE CHURCHILL COMPLEX
T he Curse of Being Special, From Winston
a nd FDR to Trump and Brexit
B y Ian Buruma
308 pp. Penguin Press. $27.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1943.
P OOL PHOTOGRAPH BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
0

20 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
F
ROM NUCLEAR MEDICINE to nuke-ing
y our leftovers in the microwave, aspects of
t he atomic age still radiate out from every
c orner of our culture. Over the years, the
p hrase Manhattan Project itself has be-
c ome synonymous with an all-out, failure-
i s-not-an-option approach to what appears
t o be an insurmountable problem that
n eeds to be solved immediately. We need a
M anhattan Project for renewable energy.
B reast cancer. Childhood obesity. And,
m ost recently, a Covid-19 vaccine.
Y et despite the ubiquity of this language,
a nd the still-present possibility of nuclear
w arfare, the story of the Manhattan
P roject is one that is rarely, if ever, widely
s hared. How to tell that story an un-
w ieldy tale that continues to unfold to this
v ery day is a question of perspective
a nd vision. In The Apocalypse Factory,
S teve Olson offers readers another angle
o n this evolving global saga.
In south-central Washington State, out-
s ide a small rural town called Hanford, a
t op-secret outpost was created that re-
s haped not only that sparsely populated
r egion, but ultimately the world. Olson
w rites that it was growing up in nearby
O thello, Wash., in the 1950s and 60s, that
l ed him to contend with Hanfords history
a nd write this book. Its a lucky bit of hap-
p enstance, since he doubts he would have
o therwise turned his attention to this little-
k nown chapter of the Manhattan Project.
W hile the majority of words dedicated to
t he nations nuclear ambitions have thus
f ar focused on the two other principal Man-
h attan Project sites Los Alamos, N.M.,
a nd Oak Ridge, Tenn. the Hanford nucle-
a r reservation is, Olson argues, the single
m ost important site of the nuclear age.
T he first full-scale nuclear reactor was at
H anford. The first ever nuclear test, deto-
n ated near Alamogordo, N.M. (the 75th
a nniversary of which was this past July
1 6), used plutonium fuel from Hanford, as
d id the last atomic bomb used in warfare,
w hich devastated Nagasaki. In 1966, when
H anfords nuclear plant produced elec-
t ricity, it was the largest power reactor in
t he world. Olson buttresses his argument
f or Hanfords significance with historic
f acts such as these, but also with personal
a necdotes and present-day insights.
T hose familiar with the history of the U
nited States nuclear program will recog-
n ize many names, locations and story
t wists: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Gen. Leslie
G roves, Enrico Fermi, Leona Woods, Niels
B ohr, Ernest Lawrence and others. Glenn
S eaborg, the oft-credited discoverer of
p lutonium (though Olson points out that
t here are almost always several cooks in
a ny scientists kitchen lab), is given a fair
a mount of well-deserved ink here. Of his
d iscovery, Seaborg later told an Associ-
a ted Press reporter, I didnt think, My
G od, weve changed the history of the
w orld.
B ut of course he and his colleagues had.
H owever, Olsons story does not halt at the
p atrolled gates of World War II Hanford.
H e illuminates Hanfords role in the world-
s haking history that has played out over
d ecades, extending from that shrub-
s teppe land of his corner of Washington to
t he desert of New Mexico, the skies above
J apan and farther still.
F or readers coming fresh to the history,
o r diving more deeply into it for the first
t ime, Olson provides enough back story of
t he key players to give a flavor of the dis-
p arate and sometimes clashing per-
s onalities that made the project tick. And
t hough the book is perhaps not for the sci-
e ntifically faint-of-heart, Olson is a crisp
w riter who brings clarity to complex sub-
j ect matter.
There is a lot of ground to cover: Cold
W ar, arms race, the promises and perils of n
uclear energy, and the legacy that accom-
p anies all of it. Part of that legacy is clean-
u p for radioactive and run-of-the-mill in-
d ustrial sites alike. Years ago, 177 audito-
r ium-size underground tanks were built to
h ouse high-level radioactive waste. With a
l ife span of roughly 20 years, it was as-
s umed a better solution for the waste prob-
l em would be devised before their time ran
o ut. More than three-quarters of a cen-
t ury later, Olson writes, the wastes con-
t inue to sit in their tanks beneath the
d esert sands. The Department of Energy
e stimates cleanup will cost between $300
b illion and $600 billion.
T he scale, speed and secrecy surround-
i ng the nuclear program remain remark-
a ble today. From Hanfords selection
t hrough the building of the construction
c amp the largest ever assembled in the
n ations history and into debates over
h ow the bomb should or should not be
u sed, we watch the World War II and Man-
h attan Project drama unfold, its charac-
t ers hurtling toward the wars finale. Olson
w rites that after the war General Groves
s aid President Truman was like a boy on a
t oboggan. Momentum: Defined within a
p hysics context, it is measured as a prod-
u ct of mass and velocity, used to quantify a
b odys motion. The mass of resources
m oney, people, brainpower, materials
a nd the velocity with which those re-
s ources came together represents a mo-
m entum virtually unparalleled since. T
hough the author could have provided
t he story greater intimacy by describing
m ore of his own experience growing up in
t he area, the book still offers the personal
i nsights of individuals whose lives were
i mpacted, for good or ill, by the Hanford
s ite. Olson includes not just those on the re-
c eiving end of accolades and Nobel Prizes,
b ut individuals from more anonymous
w alks of life, to provide a relatable and of-
t en heartbreaking layer to the narrative.
S cientists and ironworkers, machinists
a nd millwrights, poets and farmers. We
a re in the cockpit with the pilots delivering
a deadly payload, and in the hospital with a
J apanese surgeon grappling with its after-
m ath.
B y training his lens on Hanford, Olson
o ffers the biography of a town. It has expe-
r ienced booms and hardship, changing
t ack amid the shifting winds of the nuclear
a ge, a region that has seen the ebb and
f low of farming and fishing, nuclear reac-
t ors and wineries.
In December 2014, when President
O bama signed into law the National De-
f ense Authorization Act, it included provi-
s ions establishing the Manhattan Project
N ational Historical Park, a joint endeavor
b etween the Department of Energy and
t he National Park Service to share, and
i deally contextualize, the story of the na-
t ions nuclear program. Watching the often
f raught relationships at the intersection of
s cience, government and industry in a
t ime of crisis proves that it is eerily ger-
m ane to our pandemic reality.
B efore moving forward and shaping our
n uclear future, we must first seek to un-
d erstand its past, to shine light into all of its
d ark corners. Olson scapegoats no one, but
p roffers uncomfortable truths and poses
c hallenging if open-ended questions:
W hat if, at their 1986 meeting in Reykjavik,
I celand, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gor-
b achev had decided to dispose of their re-
s pective nuclear arsenals? What if some of
t he astronomical sums spent on the cre-
a tion, maintenance and cleanup related to
n uclear weapons had gone to health care
o r education?
O lson employs apocalypse in the bibli-
c al sense, meaning a revelation lit-
e rally an uncovering about the future
t hat is meant to provide hope in a time of
u ncertainty and fear. Though he does not
a lways offer answers to the questions he
p oses, he does offer hope based on his faith
i n human brilliance, tenacity and ingenu-
i ty to meet our challenges the kind of
t raits and talents that made the Manhattan
P roject possible in the first place. 0
Radioactive
The story of Hanford, a small rural town in Washington that played an outsize role in Americas nuclear ambitions.
B
y DENISE KIERNAN
THE APOCALYPSE FACTORY
P lutonium and the Making
o f the Atomic Age
B y Steve Olson
Illustrated. 352 pp. W.W. Norton & Company.
$27.95.
PHOTOGRAPH FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
The book offers insights from
people whose lives were
impacted, for good or ill, by the
Hanford site.
DENISE KIERNAN is the author of The Girls of
Atomic City and The Last Castle. Her new
book, We Gather Together, will be published
in the fall. A 1963 test to determine the safest underground spot for disposing of radioactive waste.
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 21
A
LTHOUGH MARK TWAIN apparently
didnt
coin the phrase truth is stranger than fic-
tion, he offered perhaps the best explana-
tion for why it is so. It is because fiction is
obliged to stick to possibilities, he wrote.
Truth isnt. History is replete with proof;
try, for instance, plotting a novel that faith-
fully replicates the events of Sept. 11 or John
F . Kennedys assassination and watch it be
dismis sed as absur

d.
This phenomenon takes on special reso-
nance when the vagaries of circumstance
are compounded by human idiocy, as is the
case with the catalyzing event in Jennet Co-
nants The Great Secret. Heres the setup: Skirting an international
ban on the use of chemical weapons, an
American merchant ship carrying a top-se-
cret shipment of nitrogen mustard gas shells
slips into the port city of Bari mere months
after Italys surrender to the Allied forces.
Despite the ships highly explosive cargo, its
captain is told to berth in the overcrowded
harbor and await his turn in the unloading
queue, a wait that extends for five days. And
despite Bari being a mere 150 miles from the
German front lines, the Allies are so con-
vinced of their air supremacy that they dont
even bother putting up a fighter screen to
guard the port; to the contrary, to facilitate
round-the-clock unloading operations, au-
thorities have dispensed with the usual
blackout rules, so that on the night of Dec. 2,
1943, the place is lit up like a Christmas tree.
Oh, and the one telephone linked to air com-
mand that might alert fighters that a great
squadron of German bombers is bearing
down on the harbor? Yeah, for some reason
the phone isnt working that night. In the
hands of an accomplished writer like Co-
nant, whose earlier works include the best
sellers Tuxedo Park and The Irregulars,
this real-life scenario and resulting disas-
ter offers great, if awful, promise. But bumping up against the stranger-
than-fiction dictum is another that is the
bane of nonfiction writers everywhere:
Truth often takes disappointing turns. In
real life, otherwise fascinating people have a
bad habit of dying or retiring or leaving on a
business trip just before big stuff happens. In
other cases, the discovery or invention for
which someone is known is found to not be as
groundbreaking as first imagined, or the
person turns out to be a bit player in the
great drama of the day, not the lead. It seems that an amalgam of these real-life pitfalls
confronted Conant in the telling of her tale,
and the effect is a discursive and oddly bifur-
cated book.
At the heart of the story are the actions of
Lt. Col. Stewart Alexander, a doctor previ-
ously attached to the Chemical Warfare
Service of the U.S. Army, who is dispatched
to Bari after the devastating German attack.
With 17 ships sunk and over 1,000 Allied sol-
diers and sailors dead or missing, the
ghastly consequences of the Bari turkey-
shoot are still unfolding when Alexander ar-
rives. In grim detail, Conant describes the
suppurating wounds and baffling symptoms
that afflict hundreds of the wounded and
which eventually kill a good many of them.
But this is a remarkable case of the right per-
son showing up at the right time. Having re-
cently conducted laboratory experiments on
the effects of mustard gas, Alexander
quickly deduces that this chemical cocktail
is the mystery killer in Bari. It is there his troubles start. Unbeknown
to Alexander, during their advance into
Nazi-held Europe, British and American
forces have been secretly stockpiling chemi-
cal weapons on the morally dubious ratio-
nale that if a disintegrating Third Reich re-
sorts to using such banned weapons, the Al-
lies will be able to retaliate in kind. The mus-
tard gas shells brought into Bari were in
service of that mission, but the British au-
thorities overseeing the harbor have been
instructed adamantly to deny their exist-
ence to everyone, including the persistent
American doctor. As Alexander continues to
investigate he is ultimately able to pin-
point the ship that carried the toxic cargo by
plotting the radiating circle of deaths it
caused British commanders alter their
tune, arguing that if there is poison gas in the
harbor, it must have come from the German bombers. Alexander wont play along. Over
British protestations, in his official report he
makes clear that nitrogen mustard is re-
sponsible for the injuries and deaths he is
seeing, and that it came from an American
ship.
But there is another aspect of Alexanders
efforts in Bari that drives The Great Se-
cret. In his earlier experiments, Alexander
noted that nitrogen mustard exposure
spurred a dramatic collapse of white blood
cells in laboratory mice. Since the prolifera-
tion of white blood cells is the main factor in
the spread of many cancers, notably
leukemia, Alexander theorized that perhaps
the compound could be harnessed to combat
the disease. His idea was given short shrift
at the time but finding precisely the same
pattern of collapsed white blood cell counts
among the Bari victims, Alexander has the
foresight to gather tissue samples from
some of the casualties and ship them off to
research labs in the United States for further
study. The results, Conant tells us, helped
spur research into the use of chemical com-
pounds, or chemotherapy, in the war against
cancer.

A S INTRIGUING AS
all this might sound, the
telling is hobbled in several fundamental
ways. Rather than employ her material to il-
luminate or support her narrative, Conant
has a habit of allowing that material to dic-
tate it. A chief example early on is Alexan-
ders unpublished autobiography, cited at
least 25 times in the first chapter alone.
Thus, after a quick and vivid description of
the Bari attack, and an economical render-
ing of the doctors early years, readers are
given an extended tour of Alexanders prior
wartime assignments and transfers, com-
plete with the names and titles of his various
colleagues and commanding officers, joined to his thoughts on everything from his at-
tendance at the January 1943 Casablanca
conference (a thrill) to his impressions
(lasting) upon first meeting Dwight D. Ei-
senhower, when what most readers will
want is to get back to the hellscape of Bari.
Unfortunately, this return is marked by an
overreliance on a new set of reference ma-
terials. Drawing from Alexanders prelimi-
nary reports as he sets about his Bari inves-
tigations, Conant tells us countless times
that Alexander suspects mustard gas to be
the unknown killer long after we have al-
ready intuited this. Pulled from other docu-
ments is a litany of medical terms that are
poorly defined and may leave lay readers at
sea. Terms such as conjunctivital and hy-
peremia had me reaching for a dictionary,
while instinct alone told me gross edema
and vesiculation of the penis is a condition
best avoided. Of course, much of this profusion of ancil-
lary detail could be excused, even justified, if
the life of Stewart Alexander and his pio-
neering work on cancer were the books
through-line. It is not. Instead, at wars end,
Alexander turns down an offer to join a can-
cer research institute in favor of returning to
his family medical practice in New Jersey.
As a result, the last third of The Great Se-
cret is then handed off to a wholly different
character, Col. Cornelius Dusty Rhoads,
the head of the Armys Chemical Warfare
Service and the future director of the Sloan
Kettering Institute. So thoroughly does Al-
exander fall away that, for nearly 100 pages,
he merits just a few passing references.
Most dispiriting of all, when we do finally
hear from Alexander again in the epilogue
we discover that his work in Italy was hardly
the life-shaping event we might have imag-
ined; for more than 30 years, Conant writes,
he had not given the Bari episode so much
as a second thought. If startling, this admission raises the pos-
sibility that Alexander understood some-
thing about his Bari adventure that Conant
does not: that despite the extraordinary cir-
cumstances in which it occurred, his contri-
bution to the field of cancer research was
quite limited. By then weve learned that nei-
ther the Bari disaster nor the tissue samples
Alexander collected pioneered the study of
nitrogen mustard in chemotherapy; medical
researchers were already experimenting
with the compound. In a remarkable turn,
Conant also blames the widespread misap-
prehension that the disaster preceded the
first clinical trial of nitrogen mustard on a
badly worded 1946 newspaper article, while
noting that this confusion continues to the
present day. That confusion seems likely to
persist given her books subtitle: The Clas-
sified World War II Disaster That Launched
the War on Cancer. In much of her work, Conant has traveled
that fascinating and murky landscape where
science, medicine and war intersect. While
The Great Secret also resides on this ter-
rain, readers are apt to find more reward in
her previous books. 0

From Weapon to Wonder Drug
How mustard gas spurred the research of chemical compounds to treat canc
er.
B
y SCOTT ANDERSON
SCOTT ANDERSONS latest book is The Quiet
Americans: Four C.I.A. Spies at the Dawn of
the Cold War A Tragedy in Three Acts.
T HE GREAT SECRET
T he Classified World War II Disaster That
L aunched the War on Cancer
B y Jennet Conant
Illustrated. 380 pp. W.W. Norton & Company.
$27.95.
P HOTOGRAPHS, FROM LEFT: U.S. ARMY SIGNAL CORPS; VIA W.W. NORTON The Allies tried to cover up the mustard gas released during the bombing of the Bari harbor.
0 ji-xian-sheng

THEIR WORLD WAR II SETTINGS are what
m ake these five titles obvious compan-
i ons. But their tributes to family are what
s trongly connect them. All five commemo-
r ate the generational and lateral bonds
t hat sustain children across the globe, and
t hat are all too easily broken.
D ip into these very different books and
y oull find resentment and reconciliation
b etween siblings, heartbreak as extended
f amilies are obliterated, strength as old
m en open their homes to grandchildren
a nd joy as a new generation is brought into
t he world. Youll be transported to New
Y ork, London, France, Cuba, Poland, Rus-
s ia, Turkestan; youll weep at the shocking
r andomness by which lives are suddenly
t orn apart. But youll come away con-
v inced that in times of crisis those who
l ove us or who do their best to love us
a re the key to our survival.
A my Hest gently and expertly explores
t hese themes in The Summer We Found
t he Baby. The story takes place on the
A merican home front in an undisclosed
y ear and is related by three instantly en-
g aging narrators: 11-year-old Julie and 6-
y ear-old Martha Sweet, summering in
B elle Beach, Long Island, and their neigh-
b or 12-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli, son of the
l ocal grocer. The baby of the title turns up
o n the doorstep of the new childrens li-
b rary on the day of a gala celebrating its
o pening, and the rest of the summer is re-
m embered in breezy flashbacks as the
t hree narrators chase one another around
t rying to do whats best for the mysterious a
nd patient infant in the basket. The char-
a cters are exuberant and full of person-
a lity, but the whiff of tragedy in the back-
g round is genuine: The Sweets mother is
d ead and Brunos adored older brother
B en is serving his country in the Pacific.
T he reality of combat is never far away, as
w ounded soldiers recuperate in the
n earby military hospital and the whole
t own participates in all-too-frequent
o ceanside memorial services whenever
a nother local boy is killed. Through it all,
t he novel wears its wartime and historical
m antle with a summer lightness of spirit;
l oss never quenches its persistent under-
c urrent of hope.
A leap across the Atlantic takes us to an-
o ther home front in Miriam Halahmys
Rip to the Rescue, as we follow gutsy
J ack Castle through the bomb-strewn
s treets of London at the height of the Blitz.
A t 13, Jack lies about his age to become an
a ir raid bicycle messenger, providing a vi-
t al service as phone lines are severed and
c ity streets are blocked by wreckage.
Rip is Jacks dog, based on Britains orig-
i nal search-and-rescue dog, a mixed-
b reed terrier who saved more than 100
l ives during World War II thanks to his
a bility to identify survivors trapped under
r ubble.
Jacks fictional role as Blitz messenger
b oy and Rips owner creates the frame-
w ork for a nail-biting adventure, but this is
a lso a tale of friendship and family, in
w hich no one is completely whole. Jacks
f riend Paula desperately tries to hide her
J ewish heritage while she stockpiles sup-
p lies in anticipation of a Nazi invasion.
J ack strives to prove his worth to his de-
p ressed amputee father, and to face up to
s choolmates who mock his one deaf ear.
Useless and Deaf Nellie by day, fear-
l ess Blitz messenger boy by night wear-
i ng the uniform he secretly keeps at his
g randdads Jack is a true superhero.
T he metaphor goes unspoken but will
s urely appeal to young readers.
G ordon Korman brings the gritty hor-
r ors of combat to life in War Stories. The
e xhaustively destructive liberation of
F rance in 1944 is seen through the eyes of
t he 17-year-old U.S. Army G.I. Jacob Fire-
s tone, known as High School to the rest
o f his squad because hes so young. Jacob
s hares war stories through a structure I
t hink of as generational flashback, al-
l owing the contemporary reader to relate
t o Jacobs great-grandson, Trevor, who at
1 2 is obsessed via video games with the
m ilitary side of the European theater.
T revor, his peace-loving dad, Daniel (a his-
t ory teacher whose store of facts comes in
h andy for background information), and
t he irrepressibly confident old soldier Ja-
c ob (now 93) make a pilgrimage to France
o n the 75 th anniversary of V-E (Victory in
E urope) Day. The shadowy menace of La
V érité, a group bent on revenge for a mys-
t erious error of judgment committed by J
acob 75 years earlier, adds modern con-
t rast and tension. Its intimidation of Trev-
o rs family includes slashed tires and a
f ake bomb in their hotel room. The concept
o f a personal vendetta replicating war, in
t he form of modern terrorism, brings the
p ast uncomfortably close both for Trevor
a nd for the reader.
D ispossession and flight are the lenses
t hrough which wartime is viewed in Ruth
B ehars Letters From Cuba, based on the
l ittle-known saga of Jews who emigrated
f rom Poland to Cuba to escape persecution
i n the decade prior to World War II. The
n ovel is framed as a series of letters,
m ostly written in 1938 from the 11-year-old
é migré Esther to her little sister Malka as
E sther and her father struggle to earn
e nough money to bring the rest of the fam-
i ly to Cuba from increasingly dangerous
a nd hostile Poland. Practical, hardwork-
i ng Esther sets up a dressmaking business
a s she learns to speak and read Spanish;
s he makes friends with a cosmopolitan
a nd diverse group of Cuban citizens, in-
c luding Chinese immigrants and the
g randdaughter of a former African slave,
a nd participates in their various religious
c elebrations without ever losing her Jew-
i sh faith. This is a quiet story of determina- t
ion, and an openly lov-
i ng tribute to the authors grand-
m other, who made the real journey that in-
s pired Esthers fictional one.
R ounding out this eclectic selection of
b ooks is one more journey this one auto-
b iographical. The Caldecott Medalist Uri
S hulevitzs Chance: Escape From the
H olocaust is a harrowing, engaging and
u tterly honest account of the authors
c hildhood, forged in the crucible of war
a nd affected by it long after it is over. Uri is
4 when German bombs begin falling on
W arsaw. Following a serendipitous con-
v ersation with a Jewish refugee, his father
d rags him and his mother out of Poland
a nd into Russia. There they languish for a
y ear and a half in a detention camp in the
f ar north Archangel region near the White
S ea until after the German invasion of the
S oviet Union. They spend the remainder
o f the war in Turkestan, foreign pariahs on
t he verge of starvation.
B lind luck plays an enormous role in
U ris survival, and the one consistency in
h is terrifying, nomadic young life is the
u rge to draw. This memoir is lavishly illus-
t rated with the authors own drawings
s ome of them modern renderings that
c omplement the text, others astonishing
c hildhood originals. Told without bitter-
n ess, in a relatable, straightforward voice,
i t reminds us that creativity and survival
g o hand in hand. For a child in a world
g one mad, encouragement to embrace
t hat creative urge is sometimes the great-
e st love a parent can bestow. 0
Five kids books set during World War II.
ELIZABETH WEINS
newest World War II thriller
for young adults, The Enigma Game, will be
published in November.
T HE SUMMER WE FOUND THE BABY
B y Amy Hest
181 pp. Candlewick. $16.99.
(Ages 10 and up)
R IP TO THE RESCUE
B y Miriam Halahmy
208 pp. Holiday House. $16.99.
(Ages 8 to 12)
W AR STORIES
B y Gordon Korman
240 pp. Scholastic. $17.99.
(Ages 8 to 12)
L ETTERS FROM CUBA
B y Ruth Behar
272 pp. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99.
(Ages 10 and up)
C HANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST
B y Uri Shulevitz
336 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $19.99.
(Ages 8 to 14) Uri Shulevitzs cover illustration for Chance:
Escape From the Holocaust.
Children in a World Gone Mad
B
y ELIZABETH WEIN
2 2 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 23
EVIL GENIUSES:
The Unmaking of America: A
Recent History, by Kurt Andersen. (Random House,
$ 30.) America reached a grim turning point in the
1970s, Andersen argues, and today risks being the
first large modern society to go from fully developed
to failing.
THE TUNNEL, by A. B. Yehoshua. Translated by Stuart
Schoffman. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.) In this
novel, Zvi Luria, a retired engineer in Tel Aviv, is in
the early stages of dementia and takes a job in the
desert to keep his mind sharp. The project involves
building a road through an area where a Palestinian
family lives, hiding out amid ancient ruins. Yeho-
shua masterfully entwines social commentary with
a portrait of a mind in decline.
TRUE CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: The Investiga-
tion of Donald Trump, by Jeffrey Toobin. (Doubleday,
$ 30.) In a narrative that unfolds like a tragedy,
Toobin argues that Trump came away from the
Mueller investigation basically unscathed because
Mueller proceeded with an excess of caution. LUSTER,
by Raven Leilani. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
$ 26.) This first novel about a 23-year-old New
Yorker who becomes entangled with a white subur-
ban couple and their Black daughter feels like
summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into
a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying
forward like a bike down a hill.
A DOMINANT CHARACTER: The Radical Science and
Restless Politics of J. B.S. Haldane, by Samanth
S ubramanian. (Norton, $40.) Haldane, the British
biologist and ardent communist who helped synthe-
size Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics,
was once as famous as Einstein. Subramanians
elegant biography doubles as a timely allegory of
the fraught relationship between science and poli-
tics.
TENDER IS THE FLESH, by Agustina Bazterrica. Translat-
e d by Sarah Moses. (Scribner, paper, $16.) From the
first words of this Argentine writers second novel,
the reader is already the livestock in the line, pri-
mordially aware that this book is a butchers block. THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI,
by Akwaeke Emezi. (River-
h ead, $27.) This steamroller of a story, about coming
of age and coming out in Nigeria, centers on what a
family doesnt see or doesnt want to see and
whether that blindness contributes to a sons death.
THE BIRD WAY: A New Look at How Birds Talk,
Work, Play, Parent, and Think, by Jennifer Acker-
m an. (Penguin Press, $28.) Ackerman focuses on the
entirety of birds worlds their sensory experience,
communication styles, parenting strategies. The
huge cast includes storm petrels, Australias fire
hawks and the kea, a cheeky New Zealand parrot.
THE BOOK OF EELS: Our Enduring Fascination With
the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural
World, by Patrik Svensson. (Ecco, $28.99.) Svensson
follows those slithery beings in every direction they
take him, producing a book that moves from Aris-
totle to Freud to the fishing trips of his youth.
Editors Choice /Staff Picks From the Book Review
The full reviews of these and other recent books
are online: nytimes.com/books
0
The New York Times best sellers are compiled and archived by the best-sellers-lists desk of the New York Times news department, and are separate from the editorial, culture, advertising and business sides of The New York Times Company. Rankings
reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles published in the United States
. ONLINE: For complete lists and a full explanation of our methodology, visit www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers .
THIS
WEEK THIS
WEEK
WEEKS
ON LIST WEEKS
ON LIST LAST
WEEK LAST
WEEK
1 1 101 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens. (Putnam) A young woman who survived
alone in the marsh becomes a murder suspect.
2 1 CHOPPY WATER, by Stuart Woods. (Putnam) The 54th book in the Stone Barrington
series. Things get rough for Stone as he goes after criminals in New York City and Key West.
3 1 THE MIDWIFE MURDERS, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo. (Grand Central) A
single mom teams up with an N.Y.P.D. detective to solve a case involving misdeeds at a
university hospital.
4 1 A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL, by James Lee Burke. (Simon & Schuster) The 23rd book in the
Dave Robicheaux series.
5 2 11 THE VANISHING HALF, by Brit Bennett. (Riverhead) The lives of twin sisters who run away
from a Southern Black community at age 16 diverge as one returns and the other takes
on a different racial identity but their fates intertwine.
6 5 11 THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley. (Morrow) A wedding between a TV star and a magazine
publisher on an island off the coast of Ireland turns deadly.
7 9 9 28 SUMMERS, by Elin Hilderbrand. (Little, Brown) A relationship that started in 1993
between Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud comes to light.
8 6 5 THE ORDER, by Daniel Silva. (Harper) The 20th book in the Gabriel Allon series. The art
restorer and spy investigates whether Pope Paul VII was murdered.
9 8 3 1ST CASE, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. (Little, Brown) After getting kicked out
of M.I.T., Angela Hoot interns with the F.B.I. and tracks a pair of murderous siblings.
10 11 7 THEN SHE WAS GONE, by Lisa Jewell. (Atria) Ten years after her daughter disappears, a
woman tries to get her life in order but remains haunted by unanswered questions.
1 1 2 LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Sean Hannity. (Threshold Editions) The Fox News host offers his
assessment on what is at stake in the 2020 election.
2 3 5 TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH, by Mary L. Trump. (Simon & Schuster) The clinical
psychologist gives her assessment of events and patterns inside her family and how they
shaped President Trump.
3 1 FINDING FREEDOM, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand. (Dey St.) The Duke and Duchess
of Sussex’s journey from courtship to their decision to step away from their royal lives.
4 2 2 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House) The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
reveals a rigid hierarchy in America today.
5 7 23 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public speaker describes her journey
of listening to her inner voice.
6 5 16 HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, by Ibram X. Kendi. (One World) A primer for creating a more
just and equitable society through identifying and opposing racism.
7 4 21 WHITE FRAGILITY, by Robin DiAngelo. (Beacon Press) Historical and cultural analyses on
what causes defensive moves by white people.
8 1 EVIL GENIUSES, by Kurt Andersen. (Random House) The author of “Fantasyland” looks
at the economic, cultural and political forces to which he ascribes the undermining and
dismantling of the American middle class.
9 5 THE TRUTHS WE HOLD, by Kamala Harris. (Penguin) A memoir by the California senator
and 2020 Democratic candidate for vice president.
10 15 3 THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Vintage) An account of the Great
Migration of 1915-70, in which nearly six million African-Americans abandoned the South.
Fiction Nonfiction
COMBINED PRINT AND E-BOOK BEST SELLERS SALES PERIOD OF AUGUST 9-15
Best Sellers
For the complete best-seller lists, visit
nytimes.com/books/best-sellers
22

24 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
...................................................
Pinky Promise When Nina Mata
auditioned to illustrate a hush-hush
project back in the spring of 2019, she
didnt think the secret job would be to
illustrate LeBron Jamess debut, I Promise, which en-
ters the childrens
picture book list this
week at No. 1.Despite the shock,
once Mata read Jamess words she
didnt skip a beat. It
was really easy for me
to conceptualize this,
she said over thephone from her home
in New Jersey. It was
so natural for me. I Promise the
book is the literary
extension of I Promise
the school, founded by
James in Akron, Ohio
his hometown
and designed espe-
cially for kids who might otherwise fall
through the cracks. It was important
to us that the artwork in I Promise
really reflect all students, so that every-
one who reads it can see themselves in
the images, James said in an email from
Orlando, Fla., hours before Game 1 of his
first-round N.B.A. playoff series. The
inclusive and diverse illustrations are
one of my favorite things about the
book. For Mata, that task hit close to home.
I grew up in Queens, she said. I al-
ways thought it was a melting pot of
culture. So I basically just drew my
childhood. It was conceived as a back-to-school
book, a story of young people of all races
committing to bettering one another and
themselves, together, everywhere from
classrooms to basketball courts to swim-
ming pools to jungle gyms. But now that
learning and childhood look so different
than they did just six months ago, these
messages and images take on a new
resonance. Kids and families are going through
a lot, James said. I hope this book can
bring them some hope and positivity,
and encourage them to keep pushing,
because we will make it through this
tough time. Even if you arent in school school,
Mata agreed, you can still make these
promises in the beginning of the school
year. Theyre more important even,
especially now. For James, the publication of this
childrens book comes at a time when he
misses his own children more than ever.
The hardest part about this situation,
he said of the N.B.A. bubble, is being
away from my family for so long. Not
seeing them for this many weeks is one
of the hardest things Ive ever had to
do. 0
Inside the List
LAUREN CHRISTENSEN
I grew up in
Queens, Mata
said. I basical-
ly just drew
my childhood.
THE TESTAMENTS, by Margaret
A twood. (Anchor, 448 pp., $16.95.)
This Booker Prize-winning, spy-
thriller sequel to The Handmaids
Tale takes place 15 years later and
has three narrators: Offreds
younger daughter, in Canada; her
older daughter, in Gilead; and Aunt
Lydia, the handmaids warden. Our
reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, de-
scribed Atwoods storytelling as
immersive and propulsive.
SILVER, SWORD, AND STONE: Three
Crucibles in the Latin American
Story, b y Marie Arana. (Simon &
Schuster, 496 pp., $22.) The Peruvi-
an-born Aranas illuminating,
melancholy history of Latin
America deserves a wide audi-
ence, our reviewer, Álvaro En-
rigue, wrote. With its theme of
repetition mirrored by its structure,
problems recur like a difficult
dream that instead of finishing
begins again and again. THE INSTITUTE,
by Stephen King.
( Gallery Books, 576 pp., $19.99.) Of
all the cosmic menaces that Kings
heroes have battled, according to
our reviewer, Laura Miller, the
slow creep into inhumanity in
this novel may be the most terrify-
ing yet. Here, the people who
torment innocent children sepa-
rated from their parents and
viewed as resources, like the
children of migrants and other
demonized minorities are
much like you and me.
THE PATIENTS CHECKLIST: 10
Simple Hospital Checklists to
Keep You Safe, Sane, and Orga-
nized, b y Elizabeth Bailey. (Hachette
G o, 192 pp., $15.99.) Abigail Zuger,
M.D., called this guide by a patient
advocate, revised for our pandemic
era, a godsend for concerned
friends and relatives trying to rein
in the chaos, when she reviewed it
in The Times in 2012. YEAR OF THE MONKEY, b
y Patti
S mith. (Vintage, 224 pp., $16.)
Dreams dominate the National
Book Award-winning singer-song-
writers third memoir, a travelogue
set in 2016. As she zigzags
around the country snapping
photos, Smith shares what our
reviewer, Ken Tucker, referred to as
her quivering inner life during her
70 th year. Ten new images and a
new chapter have been added.
A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE:
Environmental Racism and Its
Assault on the American Mind, b y
H arriet A. Washington. (Little, Brown
S park, 384 pp., $17.99.) An award-
winning science writer looks at the
disproportionate exposure to
pollution and blight from lead
poisoning to industial waste
faced by minority groups, with
direct consequences for their
success. The paperback features a
new preface on Covid-19 risks.
P aperback Row /BY JENNIFER KRAUSS
0
PRINT
| HARDCOVER BEST SELLERS
WEEKS ON LIST
THIS
WEEK LAST
WEEK Nonfiction THIS
WEEK LAST
WEEK Fiction WEEKS
ON LIST
1 1 102 WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens. (Putnam)
In a quiet town on the North Carolina coast in 1969, a young
woman who survived alone in the marsh becomes a murder
suspect.
2 2 11 THE VANISHING HALF, by Brit Bennett. (Riverhead) The
lives of twin sisters who run away from a Southern Black
community at age 16 diverge as one returns and the other
takes on a different racial identity but their fates intertwine.
3 1 A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL, by James Lee Burke. (Simon
& Schuster) The 23rd book in the Dave Robicheaux
series. Rival Louisiana crime families and a time-traveling
superhuman assassin bring up Robicheaux’s personal
demons.
4 3 3 1ST CASE, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. (Little,
Brown) After getting kicked out of M.I.T., Angela Hoot
interns with the F.B.I. and tracks the murderous siblings
known as the Poet and the Engineer.
5 4 5 THE ORDER, by Daniel Silva. (Harper) The 20th book in the
Gabriel Allon series.
6 1 CHOPPY WATER, by Stuart Woods. (Putnam) The 54th book
in the Stone Barrington series. Things get rough for Stone as
he goes after criminals in New York City and Key West.
7 8 9 28 SUMMERS, by Elin Hilderbrand. (Little, Brown) A
relationship that started in 1993 between Mallory Blessing
and Jake McCloud comes to light.
8 5 11 THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley. (Morrow) A wedding
between a TV star and a magazine publisher on an island off
the coast of Ireland turns deadly.
9 6 4 NEAR DARK, by Brad Thor. (Emily Bestler/Atria) The 19th
book in the Scot Harvath series.
10 11 30 AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins. (Flatiron) A
bookseller flees Mexico for the United States with her son
while pursued by the head of a drug cartel.
1 1 2 LIVE FREE OR DIE, by Sean Hannity. (Threshold Editions)
The Fox News host offers his assessment on what is at stake
in the 2020 election. (
†)
2 2 5 TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH, by Mary L. Trump. (Simon
& Schuster) The clinical psychologist gives her assessment
of events and patterns inside her family and how they
shaped President Trump.
3 3 2 CASTE, by Isabel Wilkerson. (Random House) The Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist examines aspects of caste systems
across civilizations and reveals a rigid hierarchy in America
today.
4 1 FINDING FREEDOM, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.
(Dey St.) The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s journey from
courtship to their decision to step away from their royal lives.
5 4 24 HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, by Ibram X. Kendi. (One World)
A primer for creating a more just and equitable society
through identifying and opposing racism.
6 6 23 UNTAMED, by Glennon Doyle. (Dial) The activist and public
speaker describes her journey of listening to her inner voice.
7 1 EVIL GENIUSES, by Kurt Andersen. (Random House) The
author of “Fantasyland” looks at the economic, cultural and
political forces to which he ascribes the undermining and
dismantling of the American middle class.
8 9 4 THE ANSWER IS ..., by Alex Trebek. (Simon & Schuster)
Who is the Canadian-American game show host whose
pronunciation of the word “genre” has been shared widely on
social media?
9 14 88 BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. (Crown) The former first
lady describes how she balanced work, family and her
husband’s political ascent.
10 13 130 EDUCATED, by Tara Westover. (Random House) The
daughter of survivalists, who is kept out of school, educates
herself enough to leave home for university.
An asterisk (*) indicates that a book’s sales are barely distinguishable from those of the book above. A dagger (†) indicates that some bookstores report receiving bulk orders.
SALES PERIOD OF AUGUST 9-15

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 25
0 T5H8PZ0
PAPERBACK SALES PERIOD OF AUGUST 9-15

THIS
WEEK LAST
WEEK LAST
WEEK
WEEKS
ON LIST
1 1 57 THEN SHE WAS GONE, by Lisa Jewell. (Atria)
Ten years after her daughter disappears,
a woman tries to get her life in order but
remains haunted by unanswered questions.
2 1 THE MIDWIFE MURDERS, by James Patterson
and Richard DiLallo. (Grand Central) A single
mom teams up with an N.Y.P.D. detective to
solve a case involving misdeeds at a university
hospital.
3 2 67 LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, by Celeste
Ng. (Penguin) An artist upends a quiet town
outside Cleveland.
4 7 BELOVED, by Toni Morrison. (Vintage) A
former slave living in Ohio is haunted by
events at the Kentucky plantation from which
she escaped 18 years ago.
5 6 65 BEFORE WE WERE YOURS, by Lisa Wingate.
(Ballantine) A South Carolina lawyer learns
about the questionable practices of a
Tennessee orphanage.
6 4 3 THE LONG CALL, by Ann Cleeves. (Minotaur)
Detective Matthew Venn faces his past in
North Devon while he investigates the death
of a man with an albatross tattoo.
7 9 52 THE NIGHTINGALE, by Kristin Hannah. (St.
Martin’s Griffin) Two sisters in World War
II France: one struggling to survive in the
countryside, the other joining the Resistance.
8 1 THE SONG OF ACHILLES, by Madeline Miller.
(Ecco) A reimagining of Homer’s “Iliad.”
9 7 8 THIS TENDER LAND, by William Kent Krueger.
(Atria) Four orphans encounter a cross-
section of different people struggling during
the Great Depression.
10 3 7 THE NICKEL BOYS, by Colson Whitehead.
(Anchor) Two boys respond to horrors at a Jim
Crow-era reform school in ways that impact
them decades later.
11 8 69 THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, by A. J. Finn.
(Morrow)
A recluse who drinks heavily and
takes prescription drugs may have witnessed
a crime across from her Harlem townhouse.
12 5 5 CAJUN JUSTICE, by James Patterson and
Tucker Axum. (Grand Central) Cain Lemaire,
an ex-Secret Service agent from New Orleans,
gets in the thick of things as the head of
security for a chief executive in Tokyo.
13 10 25 NORMAL PEOPLE, by Sally Rooney. (Hogarth)
The connection between a high school star
athlete and a loner ebbs and flows when they
go to Trinity College in Dublin.
14 14 17 CIRCE, by Madeline Miller. (Back Bay) Zeus
banishes Helios’ daughter to an island.
15 13 12 BEACH READ, by Emily Henry. (Berkley) A
relationship develops between a literary fiction
author and a romance novelist as they both try
to overcome writer’s block.
1 1 102 WHITE FRAGILITY, by Robin DiAngelo.
(Beacon) Historical and cultural analyses on
what causes defensive moves by white people.
2 3 13 SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE, by Ijeoma Oluo. (Seal) A look at the
contemporary racial landscape of the United
States.
3 7 33 THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, by Isabel
Wilkerson. (Vintage) An account of the Great
Migration of 1915-70, in which six million
African-Americans abandoned the South.
4 2 199 THE NEW JIM CROW, by Michelle Alexander.
(New Press) A law professor on the “war on
drugs” and its role in the disproportionate
incarceration of Black men.
5 5 218 JUST MERCY, by Bryan Stevenson. (One
World) A civil rights lawyer’s memoir of his
decades of work to free innocent people
condemned to death.
6 13 79 BORN A CRIME, by Trevor Noah. (One World)
A memoir by the host of “The Daily Show.”
7 1 THE TRUTHS WE HOLD, by Kamala Harris.
(Penguin) A memoir by the California senator
and 2020 Democratic candidate for vice
president.
8 9 16 THE COLOR OF LAW, by Richard Rothstein.
(Liveright) A case for how the American
government abetted racial segregation in
metropolitan areas across the country.
9 11 95 THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, by Bessel van
der Kolk. (Penguin) How trauma affects the
body and mind.
10 4 69 ON TYRANNY, by Timothy Snyder. (Tim
Duggan) Twenty lessons from the 20th
century about the course of tyranny.
11 10 13 STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING, by Ibram
X. Kendi. (Bold Type) A look at anti-Black
racist ideas and their effect on the course of
American history.
12 12 115 ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow.
(Penguin) A biography of the first Treasury
secretary and one of the Founding Fathers of
the United States.
13 3 MY GRANDMOTHER’S HANDS, by Resmaa
Menakem. (Central Recovery) A therapist
who specializes in trauma, body-centered
psychotherapy and violence prevention
explains racism’s effect on the body.
14 15 21 BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, by Robin Wall
Kimmerer. (Milkweed Editions) A botanist
and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation
espouses having an understanding and
appreciation of plants and animals.
15 17 THE GREAT INFLUENZA, by John M. Barry.
(Penguin) An overview of the 1918 flu
epidemic and cautionary tale for similar kinds
of large-scale outbreaks.
Paperback Trade Fiction Paperback Nonfiction THIS
WEEK WEEKS
ON LIST
Sales are defined as completed transactions between vendors and individual end users during the period on or after the
official publication date of a title. Sales of titles are
statistically weighted to represent and accurately reflect all outlets proportionally nationwide. The panel of reporting retailers is comprehensive and reflects sales in tens of
thousands of stores of all sizes and demographics across the United States.
ONLINE: For a full explanation of our methodology, visit www.nytimes.com/books/best-sellers .
Sign up for the newsletter
n y
times.com/themorning
The Morning
Make sense of the
news, every day, with David Leonhardt.

26 SUNDAY, AUGUST 30, 2020
N
ATURAL HISTORY
B y Carlos Fonseca
T ranslated by Megan McDowell
3 03 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27.
Fonseca, a Costa Rican-
P uerto Rican novelist and
a cademic, follows the curator
o f a New Jersey museum of
n atural history, whose article
o n the wing patterns of tropi-
c al butterflies catches the eye
o f a celebrated fashion designer, Gio-
v anna Luxembourg. They discuss a col-
l aborative exhibition but their clandestine
m eetings lead nowhere.
W hen Luxembourg dies seven years
l ater, the curator receives a set of manila
e nvelopes filled with notes and images
f rom their failed project. An insomniac
v igil spent with these materials releases
t he flickering apparitions of Luxem-
b ourgs past: a photographer who creates
m aps of ruined cities, a child prophet
p ossessed of apocalyptic visions and a
p erformance artist who emerges from a
S outh American jungle to test the perme-
a bility of art and law.
Natural History, ably translated from
t he Spanish by Megan McDowell, appro-
p riates from the great metaphysicians of
p ostmodern fiction. Its plotting and Del-
p hic aura suggest the paranoiac glitter of
D on DeLillo, the cosmopolitan dread of
R oberto Bolaño and the imaginative
e lasticity of Ricardo Piglia, to whom the
b ook is dedicated. But Fonseca makes an
a rid geometry of these vectors. Despite
a n interlocking, puzzle-box narrative,
t here is a curious inertness to the pro-
c eedings. The assembled characters are
f lattened by the exigencies of plot contriv-
a nce: They are like painted cutouts be-
h ind which some vast work of stagecraft
h as been erected. The cumulative effect is
o ne of labored intricacy, a Rube Goldberg
m achine of a novel that, for all its ambi-
t ion, seems designed primarily to signify
i ts own complexity. AVOID THE DAY
A
New Nonfiction in Two Movements
B y Jay Kirk
3 70 pp. Harper Perennial. Paper, $17.99.
The subtitle of this slanted
m emoir signals both its musi-
c al preoccupations and its
c leaved and chimerical struc-
t ure. Kirk accepts a journal-
i sm assignment investigating
t he mystery of a missing Bela
B artok manuscript. His booze- and pill-
a ddled odyssey takes him to the hinter-
l ands of Transylvania, where Bartok
r ecorded the peasant works that fur-
n ished his modernist compositions with
t he rich idiom of folklore. When this
s earch reveals itself to be a dead end, the
s econd of the books two asymmetrical
m ovements finds Kirk and a filmmaker
f riend on an Arctic cruise where, as in
Frankenstein, creator and monster
c ome to fight it out in the end.
K irk writes textured, chewy prose.
P otluck cooks are radiant fat-witted
w omen with steaming red arms. Slabs of
g lacial ice tilt like massive white piano
l ids. A copse outside a mine stands
coated in a marmoreal haze. While
t hese flourishes can sometimes read as
f arcical (does an Arctic caldera really look
l ike a large granite vulva?), Kirks rhet-
o rical excess usually works in his favor,
f lecking each page with the froth of con-
s ciousness.
E xperience is the books persistent
c risis. Kirk fears that his journalists eye,
e ver framing and parsing, siphons the
e nergies of his life before they can be
p roperly assimilated. Perhaps this is why
h e is hesitant to commit to anything re-
s embling a satisfying narrative arc. Read-
i ng Avoid the Day, one has the sense of
t wo still-writhing limbs being sewn on to
a torso. Still, when an arm happens to
t witch, it gives off the thrill of unnatural
a nimation. C
ROSSINGS
B y Alex Landragin
3 59 pp. St. Martins. $27.99.
Achoice is offered at the
o utset of Landragins debut:
R ead the three mysterious
t exts it contains straight
t hrough or follow a pre-
s cribed sequence that snakes
b ack and forth through the
b ook, a narrative game reminiscent of the
f orked paths of Julio Cortázars Hop-
s cotch. (The similarities end there, unfor-
t unately.)
Crossings is presented as a found
t ext. A wealthy baroness tasks a Parisian
b ookbinder with the binding of a manu-
s cript. When she dies before collecting
h er text, the bookbinder reads the re-
m arkable contents in disbelief: Theres a
g host story ostensibly written by Baude-
l aire, a noirish Paris romance with Walter
B enjamin in the role of leading man and
t he story of a precolonial Pacific Islander
w ho inhabits the souls of others in order
t o pursue her lover through time, himself
i n the soul of a European doctor.
T he novels formal gambits and trans-
g ressive literary figures lend a bit of
h ighbrow window dressing to an other-
w ise anodyne romance. Imagine a slightly
e levated Dan Brown thriller, or a sequel
t o The Time Travelers Wife, and youre
m ostly there. Netflix would do well to
o ption it immediately. L
ITTLE SCRATCH
B y Rebecca Watson
2 02 pp. Doubleday. $23.95.
In the unfixed blur of this
u rban miscellany, little pro-
f undities gleam beneath
q uotidian surfaces. Watsons
d ebut inhabits the mind of a
y oung woman as she goes
a bout the business of an
o rdinary day. The nameless protagonist,
h aunted by a trauma I wont spoil here,
o ffers consistently sharp and often melan-
c holic treatments of contemporary exist-
e nce: the theater of joy and disappoint-
m ent represented by text messages, say,
o r the depressive signifiers of corporate
o ffice life.
W atson depicts her protagonists con-
s ciousness by way of striking formal
s tructures, using typographical tricks to
i llustrate the cacophonous complexity of
i nner life. There are helixes of thought
t hat coil down the page, fields of white
s pace, columns of present progressive
v erbs, calligrams, all-caps sentences and
b racketed exclamations. While this could
b e distracting, or even indulgent, in lesser
h ands, Watsons experiments serve to
b oth deepen our immersion and reify the
b uried pain at the novels center.
W hile comparisons will be made to
L ucy Ellmanns Ducks, Newburyport, I
w as reminded of the experimental Eng-
l ish novelist B. S. Johnsons House
M other Normal, with its adventurous
t ypography marking the convulsions,
s tutters and silences of the mind (albeit
t he geriatric variety). Little Scratch
a bsorbs the more fragmented forms of
a ttention and makes of them something
r ich, assured and sad. ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN GALL
DUSTIN ILLINGWORTH
has written for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The Times Literary Supplement.
The Shortlist /Experimental Literature /By Dustin Illingworth
0

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 27
R evived /Panning Hitler
At the height of the war, the Book Review delivered a blistering takedown of Mein Kampf.
0

28
SUNDA Y, AUGUST 30, 2020on days off
on off-days
on rainy Sundays
if you’re alone
if you’re on the phone
if your family is home
as a sweet treat
for a savory supper
for a spicy night
to master the basics
to sharpen your skills
to mix up your menu
today.
What to cook
Discover thousands of expert-tested
recipes, how-to guides for every skill
level, plus more.
nytcooking.com
X