A disturbing reconsideration of a key period of history and a powerful indictment of its main actors.




In this history of the four decades preceding the Civil War, Langguth (Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence, 2006, etc.) argues that Andrew Jackson’s handling of the Cherokees sowed the seeds of secession.

The author organizes the narrative around a series of individual portraits, one per chapter. Some are well-known, including presidents, generals or senators such as Clay and Calhoun. Others, including Cherokee leaders Major Ridge and John Ross, will be new names to most readers. The author focuses mostly on the Cherokees, whose expulsion from Georgia has gone down in infamy as the Trail of Tears, one of the greatest blots on American history. The Cherokees were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” many of whom had adopted an agricultural, settled lifestyle in many ways identical to their white neighbors, right down to the use of slaves to work their fields. It was their misfortune to occupy territory coveted by white plantation owners, the prime cotton-growing lands of the Deep South. They believed Jackson, whose allies they had been during his campaigns against the British, to be their protector. But Jackson was playing a more complex game, in which sectional disputes and party politics threatened to tear apart the young nation while the likes of Clay and Adams tried to hold it together. Southerners, suspicious of any limitation on slavery, opposed Jackson’s policies with threats to secede and with the doctrine of nullification, giving states the right to void federal laws they disliked. Supporting the Georgians in their desire to expel the Cherokees, Jackson allowed the South to expand and strengthen its main asset, agricultural wealth. Langguth puts the backroom deals, Washington gossip and tribal politics into the larger context of the expulsion of the Cherokees from their homeland. By giving in to the Georgians, writes the author, Jackson made the Civil War inevitable. The final chapters, leading up to the eve of the war, are somewhat rushed compared to the full treatment of the events of the 1830s and ’40s.

A disturbing reconsideration of a key period of history and a powerful indictment of its main actors.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4859-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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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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