THE FALL OF BERLIN

A kaleidoscopic portrait of the last days of the Nazi Reich, narrated in the best apocalyptic style by British historian/journalists Read and Fisher (Kristallnacht, 1989, etc.). The bloody final days of the bloodiest European war in history provide a spectacle that, in its stupefyingly tragic depth, could have overwhelmed a Tolstoy—although Read and Fisher manage to hold up pretty well. They set their scene carefully, starting in 1936 with the opening of the Olympic games in Berlin and guiding us along the complex route that led inexorably to the eruption of war three years later. This is preeminently a history of the German capital (rather than of the German nation) during wartime, and, as such, it possesses a clarity of focus that few other accounts of the war have achieved. As Read and Fisher see them, the Berliners as a whole were vastly unenthusiastic about Hitler and his war, suspecting from the start that the Nazis were gambling with their lives. Hitler himself seems to have requited their affections in full: For all of his grandiose dreams of rebuilding the capital into an imperial showplace, the FÅhrer obviously hated Berlin and (until the end of the war) never stayed there more than a few days at a time. When the Nazi regime finally collapsed, its end was just as Wagnerian as its rhetoric had been, and it is here that Read and Fisher manage best to convey the tenor and shape of the war's intrusion into urban life: the endless procession of refugees; the increasing chaos and lawlessness; the progressive disappearance of basic goods and amenities—and, in the midst of everything, the insane survival of Germanic traits of loyalty and duty, which led thousands to die for a doomed cause they had long since lost faith in. Splendidly researched and admirably constructed, this stands as one of the best accounts yet of the war and its terrible toll.

Pub Date: April 26, 1993

ISBN: 0-393-03472-0

Page Count: 524

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1993

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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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