Serviceable but lackluster account.




An examination of what was indeed the greatest battle, numerically and perhaps otherwise, in history.

Nagorski (Last Stop Vienna, 2003, etc.), a former Newsweek Moscow bureau chief, draws on recently declassified Soviet archives to explore unknown aspects of the half-year-long battle for Russia’s capital over the fall and winter of 1941-42. One of them comes after the war, when Soviet commander Marshal Zhukov, now defense minister, requested an estimate of Soviet casualties; when he received it, he ordered its author, “Hide it and don’t show it to anybody!” And for good reason, as Nagorski shows: Overall Russian casualties in the battle were 1,896,500, against the Germans’ 615,000. Not that the Germans had it easy; convinced that Moscow would be taken before the winter came, Adolf Hitler failed to provide cold-weather gear for his men, thousands of whom died of frostbite and exposure. The news in Nagorski’s book isn’t much news at all: Neither Hitler nor his Soviet counterpart, Josef Stalin, shied from sacrificing soldiers for their respective totalitarian causes, so that the Armageddon-sized battle was all but inevitable. Still, this was something new: Soviet soldiers who had been captured and then liberated, for instance, were sent into battle in human-wave assaults, with almost zero chance of survival, while even the most loyal Soviet soldier often went into battle without a weapon, told to scavenge one from a dead German. Small wonder that the casualties were so heavy. Though he considers what might have happened had Hitler not split his forces into three fronts and instead gone straight for Moscow, Nagorski’s account lacks the big-picture clarity of other journalistic studies of the Russian war, such as Harrison Salisbury’s The 900 Days; the battle scenes are uninspired, too, as military-history buffs of the Cornelius Ryan school will quickly note.

Serviceable but lackluster account.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-7432-8110-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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