cover image A Thousand Suns

A Thousand Suns

Dominique Lapierre. Warner Books, $24.5 (476pp) ISBN 978-0-446-52535-0

Blending autobiographical memoir and popular history, French journalist Lapierre's (City of Joy) engrossing chronicle focuses on men and women whose courage, determination or resistance made a difference. Many of these movers and shakers are people he interviewed and highlighted in his previous bestselling books. Some of them fit awkwardly into the narrative's overall heroic mold: Spanish bullfighter Manuel Benites El Cordobes brings out Lapierre's corny side; Nazi general Dietrich von Choltitz, who refused to carry out Hitler's orders to raze Paris, was, as Lapierre notes, unaware of the imminent arrival of reinforcements. But we do get real heroes, including Mahatma Gandhi, Raphael Matta (a Parisian businessman who became an African game reserve warden and was eventually murdered by poachers) and Ehud Avriel (the refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria who helped engineer the clandestine mass immigration of European Jews to the fledgling state of Israel). Though long-winded at times, Lapierre tells incredible tales of true-life adventure, and he is a valuable eyewitness to history, whether he is joining castaways in the mass exodus of Algeria's French population following that colony's independence or making an unprecedented automobile trip across the USSR in 1956. A bestseller in France, Italy and Spain, this book humanizes many of the cataclysmic events of the tumultuous century now ending. Agent, Morton Janklow. (Mar.)