A complex and worthy story reduced to a beach read.

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THE ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY

FDR, FORD MOTOR COMPANY, AND THEIR EPIC QUEST TO ARM AN AMERICA AT WAR

The Ford Motor Company goes to war.

In this latest examination of the transition of American industry to wartime production, journalist Baime (Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, 2009, etc.) focuses on Ford’s conversion from the production of automobiles to aircraft engines and the B-24 Liberator bomber. The author surveys the history of the company from its founding in the Model T era to the outbreak of war, portraying Henry Ford as an anti-Semitic curmudgeon who instituted a reign of terror on the factory floor under the fearsome Harry Bennett. His long-suffering son Edsel, installed as a figurehead president, struggled against him to get the company involved in war production and drove the creation of the massive Willow Run plant, with its goal of a bomber per hour, until his early death from cancer. A pasteboard FDR puts in an occasional appearance as the ebullient father of the nation urging everyone on to victory. Baime structures the story as a lurid family contest among three generations of Fords, but he never develops the personalities of Edsel and his son Henry II (as he calls him) with sufficient depth or nuance to make the conflict genuinely engaging in either business or personal terms. He brushes briskly past the details of the truly epic challenges of retooling the auto plants and fine-tuning Willow Run; potential embarrassments, like labor strife and the relationship of the company with Ford affiliates in occupied Europe building trucks for the Nazis, surface dramatically, then fade rapidly out of the narrative. Written in a hyperbolic tabloid style—e.g., 40 torpedo bombers constitute "a vast storm cloud of airplanes," Edsel Ford "had been all but crucified”—the book falls well short of the standards set by similar recent works. See Arthur Herman’s Freedom’s Forge instead.

A complex and worthy story reduced to a beach read.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-71928-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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