An enlightening compilation that will leave historically inclined readers wanting to dig a little further into the archives.




The first English translation of letters from the Bastille archives reveals a compelling array of domestic difficulties in French families across the board.

Much is known about the conditions in which both bourgeois and working-class Parisians lived in the moments leading up to the revolution in 1789. We know about the state of politics, and we have some idea of how daily life ran its course. However, we know little about the intricacies of domestic life. This collection of 94 letters, first published in French in 1982, reveals many of those details. In her introduction to these letter troves, which helps provide context for this English version, Luxon (Political Science/Univ. of Minnesota; Crisis of Authority: Politics, Trust, and Truth-Telling in Freud and Foucault, 2013, etc.) explains that in discussing the book’s original iteration, Foucault considered the letters “a model of writing, or a game, created by the staging of a plea and then guttural cry—a game between the public audience and the eruption of a sort of spontaneity…‘flash existences’ or ‘poem-lives.’ ” In fact, what Foucault and Farge (Director of Research, Modern History/Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; The Allure of the Archives, 2015, etc.) have assembled is a kind of catalog of lives that explores the various facets of interpersonal relationships through short, haiku-esque linguistic glimpses. The letters as presented—and translated by Scott-Railton—explore the various points of view that make up family settings: spousal relations, parents and children, and royal submission. “The family secret became an object to appropriate; thus, spreading the secret…all the way to the king, was a manner of retrieving honor,” explains Foucault.

An enlightening compilation that will leave historically inclined readers wanting to dig a little further into the archives.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2017


Page Count: 344

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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