Fraser’s study of the “reasonable” confrontation between Commons, Lords and Crown is engaging, elaborate and elegantly...

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PERILOUS QUESTION

REFORM OR REVOLUTION? BRITAIN ON THE BRINK, 1832

The dame of British historical biography picks her way gingerly through the cluttered details of Parliamentary reform.

Biographer and novelist Fraser (Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, 2011, etc.) has so thoroughly enmeshed herself in the machinations and personalities of the leaders surrounding the debate for the first great Reform Act of 1832 that she often neglects to see the forest for the trees. She does convey the sense of national urgency compelling leaders like the Whig Lord Grey to pursue the bill, which was a long-running attempt to reform Parliament by addressing the medieval, unequal distribution of seats, eliminating “rotten boroughs,” or defunct areas with decreased population, and expanding enfranchisement—at least somewhat. Fraser views England at a crucial “crossroads” during this period, beset by the convergence of historical forces that would play out in the heated two-year debate over the bill. The nation was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, creating newly populous towns like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and a prosperous new middle class. As the horrors of the French Revolution were receding from memory, another revolution in France carried off the latest Bourbon king, Charles X, and installed the populist Louis-Philippe, thus demonstrating yet again the power of the masses, delighting the Whigs while alarming the Tories. In England, the bloated, ailing George IV died in June 1830, ushering in his more people-friendly younger brother William IV. Moreover, the recently passed Act for Catholic Emancipation, which gave Catholics the right to vote in elections and stand for Parliament, had riven the Tory government. Consequently, reform was in the air, and the author masterfully evokes the arguments propounded over the several sessions of Parliament by the patricians of the day.

Fraser’s study of the “reasonable” confrontation between Commons, Lords and Crown is engaging, elaborate and elegantly wrought.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61039-331-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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