A fascinating look into Soviet-era politics, through the lens of art history.




Two British journalists search for a legendary Russian treasure, missing since WWII.

The authors (The Stone of Heaven, 2002) begin in Leningrad, the former tsarist capital, where, in June 1941, Hitler's armies arrived. The staff of the Soviet museums made a valiant effort to rescue the artifacts from the looting Germans. Perhaps the greatest of those treasures was the amber room, given to Tsar Peter I in 1717 by Frederick William, King of Prussia. Made of the fossilized resin of prehistoric plants, the smoky panels of its walls stood 12 feet high, molded and carved in high baroque style. Anatoly Kuchumov, the young Soviet curator in charge of the room, decided to conceal it, hoping the Germans would miss it. No such luck: within three days, the Germans found and dismantled it, shipping it back to Königsberg, the Prussian city near which much of the world's supply of amber is found. There it lay until 1945, when the Red Army came, seeking the return of looted Russian treasures. There the mystery begins. The first Soviet authority sent to investigate reported that the amber room had been destroyed; Kuchumov, following up shortly afterwards, claimed to find evidence that the Nazis had removed it to a safe place—but where? The authors interviewed witnesses and experts in Russia, Germany, and Königsberg. The trail led through archives of the hated East German Stasi, hard-to-obtain documents in Russian research libraries, and to various shadowy figures willing to trade their questionable information for hard cash. In the end, they arrive at a conclusion that challenges the official versions (there are several) of the amber room's final fate. Their answer may disappoint, but their account of the strange and twisting journey is well worth it.

A fascinating look into Soviet-era politics, through the lens of art history.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8027-1424-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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