Books: History Without a Hero

THE IDES OF AUGUST by Curtis Cate; Evans; 534 pages; $15

The villain of a book is seldom an inanimate object. But in this case, the Berlin Wall qualifies for the role. If Curtis Cate's richly detailed, gripping history has a villain, however, it lacks a hero. For the author, a longtime commentator on European affairs and a biographer of George Sand and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, strongly implies that the Wall would never have been built if the Western Allies had shown a little more sophistication and a little less fear.

The Ides of August is a kind of upstairs-downstairs drama. On the...

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