Readers will learn perhaps more about the wall’s engineering than they want to know, but this is an appealing, detailed...



A slim, tight history of a Roman fortification that “is special because it is unlike any other Roman frontier.”

An award-winning British historian of the classical world, Goldsworthy takes time out from big subjects (Augustus: First Emperor of Rome, 2014, etc.) to write a short book on a more obscure subject, with equally satisfying results. Roman armies had mostly conquered Britain by 43 C.E., but they never occupied the Scottish Highlands, whose tribes persistently raided south. In 122, Emperor Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138, ordered a defensive wall constructed across northern Britain. Extending only about 73 miles, it took 20 years to build and remained in use for more than three centuries. Goldsworthy admits that this is trivial compared to the immense Great Wall of China, which served far longer, but it is a historical treasure nonetheless. “Nowhere else were the defenses so elaborate or monumental in scale,” writes the author, “nor is there so much archeology to see in so small an area.” Existing ancient documents rarely mention the wall, but Goldsworthy is an old hand at filling historical holes. The barrier itself was dotted by forts, towers, and military bases that were often surrounded by towns that served the needs of the soldiers. Parchment was expensive, so Britons wrote official documents and even personal letters on wood or clay slabs, many of which survive. Trash piles and even latrines turn up archaeological gems. The narrative, following a capsule history of Rome and its conquest of Britain, is comprised of 100 pages of richly complex details of late empire life along the wall. Goldsworthy concludes with a brief guide to visiting the wall.

Readers will learn perhaps more about the wall’s engineering than they want to know, but this is an appealing, detailed history of the largest monument left by the Roman Empire.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4442-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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