New & Noteworthy

What to read this month  

Revealing, often in spite of itself, this study, originally published last year, deserves a wider readership, and might get it thanks to this recently issued paperback edition. A lot is wrong with the book: in an ostensibly objective examination of five cases of ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe, Naimark inserts his indignant demand that in future cases "the international community" (whatever that is) must "act promptly and decisively." He ought to separate his history from his policy advocacy: such sloganeering in what should be a dispassionate analysis leads him to ignore all the hard questions that would perforce confront those policymakers whom Naimark rather jejunely expects to "act." (These questions are, of course, all the harder after last September 11, when it became clear that at least some of America's national-security resources must be devoted to countering real and present dangers.) But Naimark's book is significant because it contains the most easily accessible detailed account of the worst instance of ethnic cleansing in postwar Europe: the expulsion of about 11.5 million ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia after World War II, which claimed the lives of as many as 2.5 million. In his thorough case study Naimark unwittingly demolishes much of his book's overarching thesis. He subscribes to what could be called the Very Bad Man theory of ethnic cleansing, embraced by human-rights activists and many academics, which holds that only the unsophisticated would consider ethnic cleansing the product of what he derisively caricatures as "ancient hatreds." Rather, Naimark asserts, it is "ignited by the warped ambitions of modern politicians." But, as Naimark points out, the campaigns of ethnic cleansing in Czechoslovakia and Poland were presided over by democratic regimes (in Czechoslovakia the mild-mannered, impeccably liberal Edvard Benes was the head of state), supported by all the major political parties, and even endorsed by the United States and Britain. In his introduction Naimark singles Poland out as one of the "few success stories" in formerly communist Europe, and he would presumably include the Czech Republic as another. But he ignores an obvious if unsettling question: Are those states today stable, prosperous, and democratic largely because of their brutal removal of their former German minorities?

Film Studies

I Know Where I'm Going!

by Pam Cook

BFI Publishing/California

A recent addition to the BFI Film Classics series, in which landmark works of cinema are treated to graceful and precise analyses (such as the one Salman Rushdie gave The Wizard of Oz), this elegant exegesis of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1945 movie I Know Where I'm Going! illuminates one of the most shimmeringly intense films ever made. Starring Wendy Hiller, who managed to be simultaneously winsome and knowing, the movie itself is so haunting largely because of its oppositions. Jaunty yet deeply romantic, playful yet elegiac, it maintains an ironic tone (thanks in part to its many visual and auditory puns) even as it depicts its protagonist losing her jaded self to True Love. Above all, the film juxtaposes a simple romance with an exploration of the dark, even violent, nature of sexual desire. Cook puts the movie in a wide perspective—assessing the astonishing partnership of Powell and Pressburger (they shared directing, producing, and writing credits), the ways in which wartime attitudes toward marriage influenced the story, and the depopulation of Scotland's western islands, where the movie was set and largely filmed. Superbly selected still photos (the book's best attribute) inform Cook's discerning analysis of the movie's most striking feature: the cinematography of Erwin Hillier, which is—as suits a film dominated by juxtaposition—characterized by the interplay of light and shadow.


America's God

by Mark A. Noll


A comprehensive history of American Christian theology and its social context from the Revolution to the Civil War, this book is exasperating because it is at once important and impenetrable. Over the past thirty years an unusually creative body of scholarship has explored a crucial question concerning antebellum society, culture, and politics: How is it that although nearly none of the Founding Fathers had subscribed to traditional Christianity, and although the churches had suffered an enormous decline by the end of the eighteenth century, evangelical Protestantism had by the 1830s so permeated America that Tocqueville would correctly call this country "the place in the world where the Christian religion has most preserved genuine powers over souls"? No historian is more qualified than Noll to synthesize this scholarly work. Focusing specifically on the complex relationship between evangelicalism and republican political ideology, and on the central role that evangelical theology played in both the defense and the condemnation of slavery, Noll has an astounding command of the vast literature, and his understanding of the ways in which evangelicalism influenced the values, institutions, ideology, and self-conception of the new nation is always intricate and often astute. Given his subject, Noll can't be faulted for the denseness of this 602-page work, but his arguments are often imprecise and riddled with the jargon of the academy ("outworking," "construct," and, inevitably, "discourse" infect its pages). Although this is almost certainly the most significant work of American historical scholarship this year, too many readers will justifiably shy away from it.

The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944

by David M. Glantz


The clash between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army was the largest and most ferocious war in history. The main scene of the Nazis' defeat, the Eastern Front claimed 88 percent of all German casualties in the Second World War, and the death of as many as 35 million Soviet civilians and 14.7 million Soviet soldiers. The armies struggled over vast territory, in a seemingly unremitting series of battles of unprecedented scope: in a single battle, at Kursk (the largest in history), at least 1.5 million Soviets and Germans fought. The Red Army's 1944 Operation Bagration, a stunning sequence of multi-front strategic offensives, remains a feat unmatched in the history of warfare. In short, the Russo-German war constitutes the most important chapter in world military history. Astonishingly, however, the number of authoritative books in English on any aspect of the Soviets' "Great Patriotic War" can be counted on two hands. They include John Erickson's sweeping two-volume history (The Road to Stalingrad and The Road to Berlin), and the more recent works by the editor of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, retired U.S. Army Colonel David M. Glantz, now indisputably the West's foremost expert on the subject. Glantz is fully exploiting perhaps the most significant development ever in military historical scholarship—the opening of the enormous Soviet archives. He has already written a masterly general operational history of the Eastern Front, and a huge and detailed account of the Battle of Kursk, along with other studies. This more than 600-page book meticulously chronicles the operational history of the Battle of Leningrad—the nearly three-year German siege of the city, and the Soviets' often disastrous attempts to lift it—which cost the USSR close to two million civilians and soldiers. Glantz is a sober scholar and a painstaking researcher. His books are definitive, though very heavy going. They will be an essential resource when the epic struggle in the East finally finds its Tacitus or its Parkman.

God's Playground