Out of a “fractured and fractious time,” the author asserts persuasively, the medieval mind evolved into the modern. Another...




A British philosopher examines a century of profound intellectual change.

In this sweeping, lively historical survey, Grayling (Philosophy/New Coll. of the Humanities, London; The Challenge of Things: Thinking Through Troubled Times, 2015, etc.) argues vigorously that in the 17th century, an “age of strife and genius,” humankind experienced “the greatest ever change in…mental outlook.” Certainly the century was peopled by some major figures, including Descartes (the subject of one of Grayling’s biographies), Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Hobbes, Spinoza, Pascal, Galileo, Newton, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. Besides giving an overview of their contributions, the author reveals how they interacted in the rich “republic of letters” in which they shared ideas. Letter writing, he contends, flourished because of the availability of cheap paper and both public and private postal services. Significant among the busy correspondents was a French Minim monk, Marin Mersenne, whom the author describes as “the seventeenth century’s closest thing to an internet server”—he corresponded with about 150 leading mathematicians, astronomers, and philosophers and fostered the sharing of their ideas. It was Mersenne, Grayling notes, who put Descartes together with Pascal. Also influential in disseminating ideas was the polymath Samuel Hartlib, who boasted nearly 500 correspondents across Europe, including Galileo, and wrote dozens of letters each day. Grayling sets the robust intellectual life against the politics of the day, which saw unrest, upheaval, and almost constant war. Only for three years was there no fighting; war was “the normal condition of the time; war was the wallpaper.” Nevertheless, war pushed scientific innovation as armies sought improved weaponry. Grayling examines scientific change more broadly, contrasting religious and occult perspectives on understanding nature with the rise of the scientific method. By the end of the century, faith had been repudiated as a method of inquiry.

Out of a “fractured and fractious time,” the author asserts persuasively, the medieval mind evolved into the modern. Another thought-provoking winner from Grayling.

Pub Date: March 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7475-9942-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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