An above-average addition to the when-the-modern-age-began genre.




Did the modern world begin during World War I, in 1945, or perhaps with the steam engine in the 1700s? British historian Wilson (What Price Liberty!: How Freedom Was Won and Is Being Lost, 2009, etc.) makes an engrossing case for the dozen years after 1850.

That year marked the onset of a boom triggered, according to the author, by the free market that followed Britain’s abandonment of mercantilism and tariffs in the 1840s. Wilson begins in 1851 London, where the Great Exhibition drew enraptured crowds to a dazzling display of world technology (“a day at the Exhibition meant sensory overload”). Although dominated by Britain, there were unexpected hits from the United States, as well—e.g., Cyrus McCormick’s reaper, vulcanized rubber, and the Colt six-shooter. After this initial introduction, Wilson delivers 15 largely unrelated chapters on great midcentury events. The telegraph and railroad, after two decades of modest growth, exploded across the world and under the oceans, beginning a revolution in high-speed transport and telecommunications that is still in progress. An avalanche of gold, more from Australia than California, greased economies. Against their wills, Japan and China joined the world market as Britain and Russia built Asian empires—but not without early versions of another modern phenomenon, genocide, in India and the Caucasus. The U.S. boomed as it dissolved into civil war, which barely interrupted its expansion. The 1860s saw the U.S. replacing Britain as the center of attention in a world that “has been utterly transformed by war, mass migration, economic boom, advancing trade, and the impact of new technologies.” In his epilogue on the 1873 depression, the worst in history, Wilson emphasizes that the 1850s jump-started the modern world, which is more convenient and prosperous than the old but no nicer.

An above-average addition to the when-the-modern-age-began genre.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-06425-0

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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