Jules Archer Essay - Critical Essays

Archer, Jules


Jules Archer 1915–

American young adult nonfiction writer, biographer, and screenwriter. Archer is noted for writing histories and biographies for young adults that do not gloss over the unpleasant aspects of history and that present famous figures realistically, with human failings and weaknesses. He began writing for young adults when he saw the material available to his three sons in junior high and high school, textbooks and supplementary reading that he felt fed "American youngsters … pap and Pollyanna tales instead of the honest truth; the good and the bad alike." Archer served in the Air Force and became a war correspondent during World War II. From these experiences he gained background for some of his popular biographies of World War II figures, including Front-Line General: Douglas MacArthur and Battlefield President: Dwight D. Eisenhower. Archer actively researches each of his books, examining unpublished as well as published sources and traveling extensively, and often comes up with unusual or little-known facts that contribute to the interest of his works. He has a reputation for being somewhat of a George Plimpton, and in his search for material swam in the Seine at midnight, shot the rapids, climbed a live volcano by camel, and snorkeled among barracuda, among other activities. He is especially well respected for his studies of Eastern culture and history. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 4.)

Helene Cantarella

In selecting Benito Mussolini as the subject of [Twentieth Century Caesar: Benito Mussolini], Jules Archer deliberately accents the negative to achieve the positive. To prove that the ruler who teaches his people to hate blindly ultimately falls victim to that violence, he has chosen to focus on the meteoric rise and fall of the son of a small-town blacksmith and an overworked schoolmistress, who was to become II Duce of Fascism and founder of the now vanished Italian Empire.

Nothing in the life of this ruthless, strutting demagogue inspires, either admiration or compassion. He made his way from the start through betrayal of every cause he ever espoused and every friend who ever held out to him a helping hand….

All this Mr. Archer makes unmistakably clear despite minor orthographic and factual inaccuracies. His swift-moving account recaptures in substance the complex historical events that made possible the rise of the preposterous characters who played a major role in shaping them. (p. 24)

Helene Cantarella, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1964 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 1, 1964.

[Man of Steel: Joseph Stalin] is worth having. It's readable, it's cautious in its judgments and its facts are traceable without the heavy presence of footnotes…. What Jules Archer has...

(The entire section is 501 words.)

Edward J. Bander

[Laws That Changed America] was well conceived but poorly executed. The author gives chapters on the settlement of this country, economic measures, the Bill of Rights, laws that shaped our foreign policy, conservation laws, labor laws, anti-trust laws, health-education-welfare laws, laws for the farmer, conscription, civil rights, etc. Well over 100 laws are raced through helter-skelter, with the impression that liberalism was the guiding force behind all beneficial enactments. No attempt is made to explain how laws are passed or to distinguish between bills, acts, vetoes, joint resolutions, constitutional amendments or court cases. Citations to the acts are not given, nor is there any indication as to where they can be found. If all the reader wants is a list of memorable laws, classified as indicated above, he has it here. (p. 3192)

Edward J. Bander, in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, September 15, 1967; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1967 by Xerox Corporation), September 15, 1967.

The provocative title [of The Dictators] covers a multitude, and they're not all sinners—some (Lenin, Castro, Tito) improved the life of their people, others started well but became demagogues (Ataturk, Mao, Peron, Nasser). Among the out-and-out villains are not only Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin but also such American...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

David Cort

As a crash course in fundamentals, ["The Dictators"] has its distinct virtues, and it gives a net impression of the absolute hell this century has been through. The author has a wonderfully simple point of view: dictators who died poor are better than dictators who died rich. The Communist examples, even Stalin, are given a better image than is the general custom. Mao and Lenin are pretty fine here; Chiang is awful. And so is Ataturk, who was only the salvation of the modern Turkish nation. On the other hand, Franco and Salazar come off better than one would expect. (p. 26)

David Cort, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission). May 5, 1968.

[The Unpopular Ones is] a book you may agree with and yet not approve of because of its implicit polemic, its explicit parallels with the present. Most of the profiles begin with a dramatic incident—a prosecution which is also a persecution—then recap the subject's life briefly, dwelling in detail only on his divergent ideas and the consequences thereof—for the individual, for his time, for posterity. The last aspect is overstated to the point of insulting the reader: Joseph Palmer went to jail rather than remove his beard, hippies have been harassed for wearing beards, etc. The first three—Roger Williams, Zenger, Paine—are expected choices whose...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Dallas Y. Shaffer

This competent fictionalized biography [Red Rebel: Tito of Yugoslavia] emphasizes Tito's early years and resistance fighting during World War II and clearly explains the historical background and intricacies of Yugoslavian politics. The postwar developments in the country are handled vaguely, but the confrontation between Stalin and Tito is well described, as is the importance of Yugoslavia in contemporary world politics. The style is generally good, except for some corny chapter titles such as "Have Gun, Will Travel." (p. 92)

Dallas Y. Shaffer, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November 1968 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1968), November, 1968.

Kenyatta's passage from Kikuyu village to the Prime Ministery of an independent Kenya—via London, Moscow and long imprisonment—is equal to Mr. Archer's penchant for grandiloquence: it is an extraordinary story. And it's to the author's credit that he notes the nuances [in African Fire-brand: Jomo Kenyatta]: the protracted conflict between the British Colonial Office and the local settlers over the rights of Africans; the latter's misunderstanding of African tribal customs, especially with regard to land ownership; the Africans' (and Kenyatta's) disillusionment with Christianity, adherence to Christ; Kenyatta's disapproval of Mau Mau, refusal to disavow it. This most inflammatory episode is placed in perspective: caused by white denial of concessions, aggravated by the arrest of Kenyatta, it led to brutal excesses on both sides and a massive loss of African lives…. The book balances excitement with assessment and provides a welcome introduction to a salient figure. (p. 318)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), March 15, 1969.

Claude Ury

[The Extremists: Gadflies of American Society is a] unique, very stimulating analysis of the extremist views and their proponents—whether right, left or center—that have influenced the American scene, from Colonial days to the present…. [Particularly] excellent is the last chapter on extremism in the '60's. The author's thesis is that extremism is an element necessary to an open-minded democracy…. His factual, unbiased presentation will serve to help develop readers' potential for critical thinking. (pp. 124-25)

Claude Ury, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1969 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1969), November, 1969.

Dorothy S. Latiak

Today's young people should dig William Lloyd Garrison! He wanted "freedom now" and his battle cry was "I will be heard." Beginning as a moderate on the issue of slavery, his soon became the strongest voice against the evil which was tearing our country apart. Jules Archer presents Garrison [in Angry Abolitionist: William Lloyd Garrison] as a human being as well as the tireless abolitionist who edited the Liberator throughout its existence…. This book will be useful to supplement material on African-American history. (p. 127)

Dorothy S. Latiak, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the March, 1970 issue of School Library Journal, published by R....

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Harvey Dust

[Thorn in Our Flesh: Castro's Cuba] is uneven in quality and [weak] on pre-revolutionary history. [Archer] is often negligent with his facts, sometimes so marshalling them as to draw unintended, meaningless, or misleading conclusions. For example, though Castro was not Communist until 1961, Archer gives the impression … that the conversion was earlier. Also, he overstates the influence of Raul and Che without offering proof of the same. He tends to conveniently overlook certain facts: e.g., Batista traded with the U.S.S.R. but no one ever accused him of being a part of the Soviet economic bloc. Archer's strengths lie mainly in his account of the Bay of Pigs …, and in his last two chapters, "Reporters Look...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

William D. Edwards

[The Philippines' Fight for Freedom is an] in-depth examination of the almost 400-year struggle of the Philippines for independence. The misery and suffering of the native people and the injustice by Spain, Church, and the U.S. dominate the account. A revealing picture of the barbarity of the times and of the situation is depicted in the chapters dealing with the U.S. take-over after the Spanish-American War. Archer forcefully introduces the Philippine leaders, their hopes for the country … and the broken promises of the U.S. Learning of the war fought by the natives against us is much like reading a story of the war in Vietnam today. (p. 57)

William D. Edwards, in...

(The entire section is 137 words.)

James Nelson Goodsell

In what is nothing short of dispassionate treatment, Jules Archer's Thorn in Our Flesh looks at Cuba and the appeal that it has to American youth—and suggests some of the reasons why. It will not please the ardently pro-Castro reader, nor will it receive plaudits from the staunchly anti-Castro reader. But that in itself lends merit to the book.

Archer's theme is that "if we understand why the Cuban revolution happened, we may be able in the future to avoid repeating the tragic mistakes that have proved so costly to us in. Cuba and Vietnam." His book does not give all the answers, but it is written for the teenager whose awareness of the vast economic and social forces at work in Latin...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Jack Forman

1968 was an incredibly eventful year and in some ways, as [1968: Year of Crisis] points out, a year of many crises for this country. Archer … succeeds here in catching some of the excitement of the year through his fastpaced, colorfully written narrative. However, because the book is not a history …, but instead a kind of retrospective, interpretative journalism, Archer does not succeed in proving that the year was a "turning point" in American history. The treatment is generally superficial; transitions between the various events described tend to be forced. Archer's bias is openly anti-war, anti-Nixon, but he does attempt throughout to be fair to all sides. On balance, while the reference value is...

(The entire section is 163 words.)

Janet G. Polacheck

[Revolution in our Time is a] confusing account of world revolutions in the past century. There is little continuity between chapters which move from the New Left to black power to whether a new American revolution can succeed and whether revolutionists should be tolerated. While many interesting anecdotes are offered, the abrupt jumps in time … and from place to place … make this book almost impossible to read and follow coherently. (p. 287)

Janet G. Polacheck, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1972 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1972), January, 1972.


(The entire section is 359 words.)

Merle Goldman

There is an advantage in having a professional writer for young people, like Archer, write on historical events because he has the knack to entice his reader on almost every page. ["Mao Tse-Tung"] is a thriller. Perhaps there has been no more exciting account of Mao. The problem is that it is too exciting.

Because he is not an expert in this field, certain aspects of Mao's life, important in understanding him, are missing. As Mao achieves power, Archer gives him the appearance of a superman. His feats of strength, ingenuity and wisdom overwhelm insurmountable obstacles. Yet Mao did falter, made mistakes and was brutal toward his internal enemies in the early stages of his movement. Though he was...

(The entire section is 171 words.)

Elizabeth H. Welch

This detailed biography [Ho Chi Minh: Legend of Hanoi] reads like the most exciting adventure story. Archer, though always favorable to Ho, is plausible, and he bases his writings on historical events and documents. In this book, Ho, to most Americans a mysterious and formidable leader, is shown more warmly, with "human" qualities, as he matured and as he developed his political philosophy. The emphasis is that Ho was not a servant of China nor of Russia. He was first a nationalist with a fierce love for his country. (p. 912)

Elizabeth H. Welch, in Wilson Library Bulletin (copyright © 1972 by the H. W. Wilson Company), June, 1972.


(The entire section is 233 words.)

Tariq Ali

[Ho Chi Minh, Legend of Hanoi] is insipid, dull even by the standards of bourgeois journalism and totally superfluous. Since Lacouture's biography is available in English, one wonders why … [the publishers] decided to publish this book at all. Certainly it does provide some information, but on the level of a bad colour supplement article which is what it should have been restricted to. (p. 86)

Tariq Ali, in Books and Bookmen (© copyright Tariq Ali 1973; reprinted with permission), April, 1973.

(The entire section is 77 words.)

Hubert Humphreys

According to Major General Smedley Butler a faction of the anti-Roosevelt Liberty League conspired to use him to overthrow the U.S. government and establish an American fascist dictatorship. Archer … uses some unpublished records of a short-lived congressional investigation and some limited interviews in an attempt to prove the validity of this assertion [in The Plot to Seize the White House]. Unfortunately his evidence, like that presented to the 1934 McCormack-Dickstein Committee, is very limited and doesn't prove anything. Archer, by repetitiously reciting hearsay evidence and using a long biographical sketch of Butler (to verify Butler's integrity and veracity), expands a fascinating footnote of history...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Mrs. John G. Gray

In [Famous Young Rebels, an] excellent collection of short biographical sketches of famous people, and some not so commonly included in collective works, the author has chosen as common denominator the fact that all twelve subjects were regarded as radicals of their day…. Offbeat life styles and goals, and intimate touches from the private lives of such well-known men and women, present attractive social study material. (p. 332)

Mrs. John G. Gray, in Best Sellers (copyright 1973, by the University of Scranton), October 15, 1973.

(The entire section is 81 words.)

Jack Forman

According to Archer, the Number Two man in Red China, Chou, is the man who has made Maoism work. In describing his life and up-and-down relationships with Chiang-Kai-Shek and Mao-Tse-Tung, the straightforward, chronological narrative [of Chou En-Lai] brings out Chou's personal qualities of charm, compromise, and patience. Archer also shows how Chou's western education contributed to his political successes in China. What comes through as clearly as Chou's character is the ability of the Chinese people to pull together in defense against foreign invasion. Some fictional dialogue is included, but the well-written account is factual overall. Together with Archer's equally well-done biography,...

(The entire section is 135 words.)

Henry J. Steck

[Resistance] is a disappointing book. Having started with a good idea and having collected a goodly body of information, the author fails to follow through. He seeks to answer a series of questions that have become compelling in recent years: Why do people resist? How far should resistance to legitimate and illegitimate authority go? What are the consequences of resistance? How can we learn from earlier examples? His historical examples range from Christ and Thoreau through resistance to Hitler and Stalin to various resistance movements today. But his assertions lack coherence, analytical depth, and persuasiveness. All forms of resistance appear to be thrown together, thus obscuring necessary historical and...

(The entire section is 137 words.)

Jack Forman

In [Trotsky: World Revolutionary, a] sympathetic and fair portrait of Trotsky, Archer clarifies without oversimplifying the muddled political situation of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He describes Trotsky's growth and development as an important Communist leader within the context of 19th- and early 20th-Century Russian history. An idealistic and sometimes fanatical believer in world revolution, Trotsky is seen as a charismatic speaker and a Communist theoretician. Archer believes his contributions to the Revolution are often overlooked because his political ambitions were not as great as either Lenin's or Stalin's. This well-written biography of Trotsky … captures the excitement and tragedy of the era...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Richard J. Walton

[The Plot to Seize the White House] is great fun. It reads like a "best-selling novel soon to be made into a major motion picture."… The trouble is that this book is hard to take seriously. There is certainly a place for popular history and there is a foundation of fact for the belief that there was a plot to seize the White House paid for by right-wing Wall Streeters. But the alleged plotters were so inept—it makes the Kissinger kidnap caper seem sensible—and Jules Archer provides so little documentation for his assertions that one wishes he had written it consciously as a comedy instead of as the unconscious comedy his terrible earnestness sometimes makes it.

There's another problem....

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Ernest Dunbar

In an analysis that simplifies issues without being simplistic, [Washington vs. Main Street: The Struggle between Federal and Local Power] traces the shifts of power that occurred as the U.S. evolved from a colonial society in which localities had considerable autonomy to its contemporary character wherein most disputes have ramifications beyond the communities in which they may arise. To its credit, the book goes beyond the formal decision-making machinery of Congress or city hall to deal with the vast influence wielded by lobbists, pressure groups and other special interests who actually determine many of the laws under which we live. It is particularly praiseworthy for its candid assessment of the treatment...

(The entire section is 235 words.)

Cynthia Seybolt

[In China in the Twentieth Century] Archer presents a balanced view of developments in China since 1900 emphasizing political history and the men who made it. The author traces the rise of the Communist Party and outlines the policies and programs it has implemented to change Chinese society. Problems, failures, and struggles within the Party, as well as its triumphs, are described accurately and thoroughly. An excellent final chapter deals with aspects of life in China today…. [This book] emphasizes the role of the people rather than the leaders in recent Chinese history. (p. 61)

Cynthia Seybolt, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the April, 1975 issue...

(The entire section is 357 words.)

Victor S. Navasky

The case for Jules Archer's "Watergate: America in Crisis" is quite simply that it is the first attempt at a comprehensive account of Watergate for young citizens….

Here is a tough-minded, skillful distillation of the Watergate events. The literary strategy is to tell the story not as it unfolded (as Woodward and Bernstein did in "All the President's Men") but as it happened. The style is clear but unpatronizing. The political premise and perspective are that Mr. Nixon was indeed "a crook."

Rather than pretending to present anything new, Mr. Archer recollects. Remember the "third-rate burglary attempt"? Where were you when John Mitchell said, "When the going gets tough the tough...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

David A. Lindsey

[Watergate: America in Crisis is a] chronological recapitulation—almost minute-by-minute—of the Watergate Affair from the break-in, through Richard Nixon's pardon to the signing of a major political campaign reform bill by President Ford. The present tense gives a sense of immediacy and urgency to the narrative, and the account is liberally laced with pertinent and cogent quotations. Informative background chapters summarize Nixon's character and political career and sketch in his closest henchman. The highlight of the book, however, is the final chapter where Archer concludes that Nixon's insatiable desire for power and sense of opportunism foreshadowed the happenings of Watergate, and that the affair...

(The entire section is 149 words.)


[The Russians and the Americans] study of 230 years of official and unofficial relations between the two countries is disjointed and boring. In content, simplistic statements occur too frequently, and stylistically Archer tries to be both analytical and anecdotal, changing gears abruptly and awkwardly. Vocabulary and concepts are beyond the ken of most junior high students, and older readers will do better with George Kennan's or John Gunther's adult works. (p. 50)

Patricia McCue Marwell, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the February, 1976 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1976),...

(The entire section is 97 words.)

Cynthia T. Seybolt

[The Chinese and the Americans] is an extensive yet detailed history of U.S.-China relations from their beginnings to the present…. Using a great variety of sources, from official documents to onlookers' observations, Archer conveys the enormous complexity of events and attitudes and helps to dispel many stereotyped American views by emphasizing the Chinese perspective. The writing is clear, and the factual narrative is frequently interspersed with quotations, interesting incidents, and amusing anecdotes. Readers with no background might find some of the detail and digression confusing, and the vast amount of material presented has necessitated some oversimplification. On the whole, however, this is a sound...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Denise M. Wilms

There's an overenthusiastic tone to this account of naturalist-explorer Roy Chapman Andrews [From Whales to Dinosaurs: The Story of Roy Chapman Andrews] that rings hollow after a while. The dynamic scientist takes on the dimensions of a heroic cardboard figure despite mention of his disregard for cultural values and, later, of the single-mindedness that led to the breakup of his marriage. Yet the nature of Chapman's full-steam-ahead personality and his remarkable museum work show how such a stylistic problem could occur. The outlines of his scientific expeditions into the Gobi Desert do point to his luck-blessed genius and make interesting reading in themselves; his adventures there carry the book more than...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

R. C. Vickery

Beginning with an account of the recent legionnaires disease epidemic, Archer has produced an entertaining and informative story of world-wide epidemiological investigations [in his Epidemic! The Story of the Disease Detectives]. The subject is treated in a nonalarmist manner, informing the reader of possible health hazards to the community as well as some of the procedures used to investigate and correct them. Technical terms are either avoided entirely or clarified when necessary. The work of epidemiologists at the Center for Disease Control and at other such organizations received long overdue recognition. This book is recommended reading for any budding young student considering a career in epidemiology....

(The entire section is 129 words.)