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The Yanks Are Coming, Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel, American and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger Review by Heather JackowitzAlbert Marrin
Beautiful Feet Books
1306 Mill Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Beautiful Feet Books has republished several excellent histories by Albert Marrin, three of which I reviewed: The Yanks Are Coming, Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel, and America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger. Marrin is a gripping storyteller who weaves the details of history into such a fascinating tapestry that his books are hard to put down. Each is written to a high school audience, although The Yanks are Coming appealed greatly to my 11-year-old son, who devoured it in a couple of days. While the other two books would also probably captivate his attention, I did not allow him to read them because of the mature subject matter, which I will explain in detail as I describe each book individually. All three books begin with significant background information necessary to understand each subject and contain a good deal of primary source material, such as excerpts of journal entries and letters. Each book is also amply illustrated with maps and photographs.
The Yanks Are Coming recounts the exciting story of America's involvement in the First World War. Beginning with the sinking of the Lusitania, Marrin explains how and why the United States entered the war and what it was like for the American soldiers who fought in it. Trench life, gas warfare, major battles, key leaders, and much more are depicted in fascinating detail. A chapter called "The Home Front" explains how the war effort was bolstered by those at home and how the war changed life for all Americans, especially for women. Another chapter, "Aces High," shows how the newly-invented airplane changed the face of war forever. Marrin ends the book with a somber foreshadowing of World War II. This is an excellent book for junior high and up.
Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel, published in 1988, was chosen Best Book of the Year by the School Library Journal. Beginning with Joseph Djugashvili's tragic childhood, Marrin follows his rise to power as the brutal dictator, Stalin. You will read about Lenin, the Marxist Party, Siberian prison camps, and Stalin's massacre of millions of his own people. Many of the stories are quite scary and brutal, so I would highly recommend that parents read the book first and be ready to discuss it with their children. One story that was particularly heart wrenching described a mother and her two young children who were being forced to return to Russia after World War I as part of the Allied agreement at Yalta. (England and the United States agreed to return all Russian refugees to Russia.) The woman threw her young children off the train into a river and then jumped in and drowned herself rather than return to certain torture or imprisonment. The eyewitness account of this desperate act really disturbed me, as did many others like it, especially those involving children. One final note about this fascinating book is that it is a little outdated. After reading Stalin, you will probably want to explain to your children about the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and the changes in Russia since then.
America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger is a very balanced look at the Vietnam War. Everett Alvarez Jr., the longest-held P.O.W. in Vietnam, said this book is a "very good account of the history of Vietnam and events leading up to the Vietnam War. The book is well documented. It presents a complete picture of the difficult thought processes (of) our country's leaders as we were drawn into Vietnam. . . . One of the book's strong points is that it portrays the war the way the men who fought it remember it." One of the chapters I found most interesting was "Bringing the War Home," where I learned about the role television played in this war and the great harm done by many of the antiwar protesters. Be forewarned that this book, like Stalin, contains explicit descriptions of torture and terrorism. I read my children (ages 11 and 13) excerpts, especially the touching descriptions of the way the POWs encouraged one another while imprisoned, but I would not allow them to read this book on their own until late high school.