Snap Judgment: Books

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin

Cracking the cocoon of secrecy and propaganda surrounding North Korea is not a job for the faint of heart. Yet somehow Martin, a former NEWSWEEK bureau chief, has pulled it off, presenting a scrupulously detailed, intimate portrait of the Kims, the world's only communist dynasty. He deconstructs the mythologized biographies of the father-and-son leaders, taking us inside their family feuds, harems and fortified villas. The narrative occasionally stumbles over the author's heavy-handed humor, but these jokes may have been the only way to keep sane in the face of his monstrous subject matter.

History on Trial by Deborah Lipstadt

In 1999 Lipstadt, a Jewish-studies professor at Emory University, set out to prove that the Holocaust had occurred, after historian David Irving sued her in a British court for calling him a Holocaust denier. This compelling volume shows how Lipstadt's defense team used visits to Birkenau, Adolf Eichmann's journalsunveiled by Israel for the trial--and Irving's own writings to prove the case. The judge ruled Irving an "anti-Semite" who "deliberately skewed [historical] evidence." Lipstadt's vigorous account is a window into a Jewish community still grappling with the loss of 6 million souls.

Chernobyl Strawberries By Vesna Goldsworthy

The title of this autobiography is at first misleading; Goldsworthy grew up not in Ukraine but in Tito's Yugoslavia. But after the author moves to London in the late 1980s, she later develops breast cancer and begins to wonder if it can be traced to strawberries she ate in 1986, when the winds from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion blew across Belgrade. Goldsworthy's poetic prose is beautiful, if convoluted at times. But she provides an affecting account of what it's like to have grown up in a country--and under a system--that no longer exists.