Not rah-rah enough for the tourist trade, and too sketchy for the armchair traveler.

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LONDON

A HISTORY

British biographer and novelist Wilson (The Victorians, 2003, etc.) briskly recaps London's evolution from Roman outpost to multicultural metropolis.

As part of Modern Library's Chronicles series, this does not aspire to the epic sweep or narrative amplitude of the city's recent “biography” (London, 2001) by Peter Ackroyd, to whom this volume is dedicated. Instead, Wilson provides a highly selective chronological account, focusing on the “barely controlled social and architectural chaos” that has always accompanied London's generally unplanned growth. He sketches in broad strokes: Roman London existed to serve the empire's needs; Norman London centralized government functions to facilitate the conquerors' hegemony; Tudor and Stuart London was insular and paranoid; Georgian London gave birth to the gracious architecture overshadowed by the ugly buildings of the Victorians, who redeemed themselves with such practical achievements as the underground railway and a decent sewer system; under Nazi bombardment, London and Londoners stood as emblems of steadfast resistance; Swinging London marked the city's transition from a workplace to playground for leisure-time amusements. The author's personal opinions, evident throughout, become particularly marked in the final chapters. “London Cosmopolis” cheerfully depicts an international city inhabited by Mexican classroom assistants, Ethiopian janitors, Sikh upholsterers, and Pakistani newspaper vendors, but “Silly London” scathingly anatomizes the “ill-disguised euphemisms and clichés” of Mayor Ken Livingston's 2002 master plan. The underlying truth, according to Wilson, is “that very few Londoners any longer make or do anything specifically useful and that your best chance of a job . . . is work as a waiter, a domestic servant in an hotel, or a prostitute.” It's punchy, all right, but despite tributes to London's “unquenchable life,” the author doesn't convey much affection for his place of residence, and his assertion that “in spite of all the mistakes made by its administrators, [London] will meet the challenges of the future” sounds decidedly halfhearted.

Not rah-rah enough for the tourist trade, and too sketchy for the armchair traveler.

Pub Date: July 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-679-64266-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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...

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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