Deft, zesty social history.

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BEHIND THE THRONE

A DOMESTIC HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ROYAL HOUSEHOLD

From bedchambers to ballrooms, a revealing portrait of daily life among the royals.

Steeped in British history, Tinniswood (History/Univ. of Buckingham; The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 2016, etc.) offers an intimate and entertaining look at the private lives of monarchs from Elizabeth I to the current occupants of Buckingham Palace. Funded grandly by their subjects, kings, queens, and their families have always inhabited “a cocoon of support to ease their paths through life”: cooks, dressers, housekeepers, valets, wet-nurses and governesses, pages, footmen, gardeners, butlers, secretaries, and a hierarchy of staff overseers. “The rituals of royal care,” Tinniswood writes, “are there to separate sovereigns from the rest, to remind their subjects that they are not like other people, not even presidents and billionaire executives.” In centuries past, body servants included a bedchamber-woman who handed the queen her fan, poured water out of a jug when the queen washed her hands, and pulled on the queen’s gloves; a page was called in to put on the queen’s shoes. Some 1,200 employees attend to the household of Elizabeth II; her great-great-grandmother Victoria had 921 salaried retainers. Royals were rarely alone. Charles II, annoyed that Whitehall palace was “cluttered with people,” devised a set of household ordinances to control the throngs. Royal palaces, the author asserts, were not “like some regal version of Downtown Abbey”; Whitehall, particularly, “was more like a vast apartment complex” with around 1,500 lodgings for countless servants, government staff, menials (who slept in closets), and squatters. Tinniswood cheerfully chronicles the flirtations, affairs, family squabbles, back-stabbing, and jockeying for favor that characterized the royal courts, even giving pets a quick nod. George V, for example, doted on Charlotte, a parrot who had the habit of defecating on the tablecloth. The author also recounts the madness of George III, whose “weeping, insomnia, and feverish agitation” may have been caused by acute attacks of porphyria or, as recent historians suggest, “recurring bouts of manic-depressive psychosis.” Some sovereigns, the author admits, “are more interesting than others.”

Deft, zesty social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09402-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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