An authoritative history of national strife from a highly knowledgeable guide.




A new history of Stalin’s oppressive regime, which led to the death by starvation of nearly 4 million Ukrainians between 1931 and 1934.

Drawing on considerable published scholarship and new archival sources, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Applebaum (Practice/London School of Economics; Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, 2012, etc.) offers a chilling, dramatic, and well-documented chronicle of a devastating famine. She argues persuasively that the lack of food resulted from a conflation of political, rather than natural, causes: enforced collectivization, confiscation of food, harsh blacklists imposed on farms and villages, trade restrictions, and a “vicious propaganda campaign designed to persuade Ukrainians to watch, unmoved, as their neighbours died of hunger.” Ukraine was especially vulnerable to oppression: “disdain for the very idea of a Ukrainian state had been an integral part of Bolshevik thinking even before the revolution” of 1917; all Russian political parties, Applebaum writes, “shared this contempt” and feared any signs of a Ukrainian national movement. Famine was a scourge in the 1920s, as well; after the outbreak of World War I, a nationalized food distribution system created chaos and shortages. That situation worsened under Stalin’s policy known as “War Communism”: “take control of grain, at gunpoint, and then redistribute it to soldiers, factory workers, party members and others deemed ‘essential’ by the state.” Food was exported, as well, to fund purchases of arms and machinery. Collectivization, which required farmers to give up their land to the Communist state, “destroyed the ethical structure of the countryside as well as the economic order.” When farmers resisted handing over their land and property, collectivization brigades “resorted to outright intimidation and torture.” When farmers refused to hand over grain, they were punished like political dissidents. Stalin’s draconian policies included the elimination of Ukraine’s scholars, writers, and political leaders and the “systematic destruction of Ukrainian culture and memory.” Famine was another form of repression. In her detailed, well-rendered narrative, Applebaum provides a “crucial backstory” for understanding current relations between Russia and Ukraine.

An authoritative history of national strife from a highly knowledgeable guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53885-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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