East West Street: Non-fiction Book of the Year 2017 Hardcover – 26 May 2016
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A monumental achievement: profoundly personal, told with love, anger and great precision (John le Carré)
Supremely gripping. Sands has produced something extraordinary. Written with novelistic skill, its prose effortlessly poised, its tone perfectly judged, his book teems with life, from the bustling streets of Habsburg Lviv to the high drama of the Nuremberg trials. One of the most gripping and powerful books imaginable (Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES)
Important and engrossing. . . even when charting the complexities of law, Sands's writing has the intrigue, verve and material density of a first-rate thriller. . . He can magic whole histories of wartime heroism out of addresses eight decades old. Or, chasing the lead of a faded photograph, he can unearth possible alternate grandparents and illicit liaisons to be verified only by DNA tests. . . an exceptional memoir (Lisa Appignanesi OBSERVER)
Engrossing ... Sands has written a remarkable and enjoyable book, deftly weaving his own family history into a lively account of the travails of the early campaigners for international human rights law (Caroline Moorhead LITERARY REVIEW)
A magnificent book. A work of great brilliance. There is narrative sweep and intellectual grip. Everything that happens is inevitable and yet comes as a surprise. I was moved to anger and to pity. In places I gasped, in places I wept. I wanted to reach the end. I couldn't wait to reach the end. And then when I got there I didn't want to be at the end (Daniel Finkelstein THE TIMES)
A fascinating and revealing book, for the things it explains: the origins of laws that changed our world, no less. It's also a readable book, and thoughtful, and compassionate. Most fundamentally, though, it's a book that tells a few individual human stories that lie behind the world-changing ones. That storytelling isn't redemptive - what could be, in this context? - but it confronts all those silences and challenges them. That challenge makes it an important book too (Daniel Hahn THE SPECTATOR)
A vivid and readable contribution, part memoir, part documentary, to the history debate ... Much of the most compelling material in this book is personal ... Moving and powerful (Mark Mazower FINANCIAL TIMES)
Outstanding ... This is the best kind of intellectual history. Sands puts the ideas of Lemkin and Lauterpacht in context and shows how they still resonate today, influencing Tony Blair, David Cameron and Barack Obama. When we think of the atrocities committed by Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad, it is the ideas of these two Jewish refugees we turn to. Sands shows us in a clear, astonishing story where they came from (David Herman NEW STATESMAN)
In a triumph of astonishing research, Sands has brilliantly woven together several family stories which lead to the great denouement at the Nuremberg tribunal. No novel could possibly match such an important work of truth (Antony Beevor)
A book like no other I have ever read - unputdownable and unforgettable (Orlando Figes)
A uniquely personal exploration of the origins of international law, centring on the Nuremberg Trials, the city of Lviv and a secret family historySee all Product description
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There is much fascinating legal detail in the book, and the hero is the great Cambridge Law Professor, Hersch Lauterpacht, the father of modern human rights whose own family perished in Poland. It is one of a number of strange coincidences in the book that Lauterpacht was himself a law student in Lviv (though unable to take his final examinations because the University had ejected Jews.) Lauterpacht put the term ‘crimes against humanity’ – "three words" which, as Sands puts it, "describe the murder of four million Jews and Poles on the territory of Poland” - into the Nuremburg trial. This revolutionary new concept has placed limits on state sovereignty ever since and has meant that states are no longer free to treat their people as they wish.
In carrying out his research, Sands undertook a huge amount of painstaking detective work in an effort to track down people who had connections with the main characters who feature in the book – people who knew about his grandparents and other family members, the lawyers who appear in the story, Hans Frank, etc. Many of these people seem to have enjoyed extraordinary longevity, and Sands includes some of their astonishing accounts (together with photographs) in his book. In one chapter, he writes about the ‘fearless’ Miss Elsie Tilney of Norwich who smuggled Sands’s own mother, just a year old, out of German-occupied Vienna in 1939. Without the heroism of Miss Tilney, this book would not have been written.
The many poignant stories that Sands tells of his Jewish relatives, almost all of whom died in Lviv, are at times almost unbearable to read. Yet they provide a unique picture of the tragedy of life as experienced by Jews in the city in those years. The book, though scholarly and erudite in tone, is beautifully written and immensely readable It is a truly remarkable book.
Sands takes us on a journey through history, following the lives of several people, all connected to the (now Ukranian) town of Lviv. The town has gone by many names, and changed hands eight times between 1914 and 1944. Two of the people we follow are prominent legal scholars, each of whom was instrumental in the Nuremberg Nazi trials in 1946.
These trials were the birth of international law as we know it today, and the first time in recorded history where the leaders of a nation were held accountable for for crimes committed against their own people. Up until this point, states were allowed to treat their own people however they wished. This changed at Nuremberg, where individual rights took precedence over national laws. Crimes against humanity and genocide, words which we hear on a semi-regular basis in the news these days, were brand new back then, and had never been legally enforced before.
Other reviewers note that it can be dry and legal in places, but I personally never found this to be the case, speaking as someone with no knowledge of legal jargon and legalese. The book is well written and Sands manages to join several parallel threads together towards the end of the book, which I felt was masterfully done.
The author is methodical in his unwrapping of that terrible time in the history of Poland, its people and its aggressors.
Definitely worth a read for booklovers, historians and anyone wanting to know more about the huge amount of work done by the lawyers, judges and legal teams in bringing the guilty to justice.