Packed with elegant aperçus and vibrant with the author’s rueful understanding that “Naples the glorious and Naples the...




From novelist/essayist/editor Taylor (The Book of Getting Even, 2009, etc.), an idiosyncratic, atmospheric portrait of “the great open-air theater of Europe.”

Once considered Italy’s pleasantest city, second only to Rome in importance, Naples today is as noted for its dire poverty and malevolent Camorra crime syndicate. “Its residents know themselves by instinct to be different from other European citizenries,” writes Taylor: “more ancient, less well-off, more skeptical, less clean. But wiser, grander.” Those sentences resonate with the author’s attractive blend of romanticism and realism as he plumbs Naples’ Greek roots and the pagan sensibility that still underpins its Catholic surface. Taylor’s scope is as all-embracing as the stroll he takes around the Bay of Naples. He connects the magnificent wall paintings in the Villa of Poppaea with Italian art of the 15th century. He notes his “fear and dislike” of Christianity “because it sets the flesh against the mind and denies the brevity of our expectations; because, in a word, it is so un-Greek.” Taylor finds Neapolitans of every generation deeply Greek in their tragic sense of life, borne out by centuries of foreign domination, climaxing with the brutal Nazi occupation in the final years of World War II. The author wears his formidable erudition lightly as he cites classical authors and 20th-century travel writers such as Norman Douglas with equal zest and acuity. Yet some of his most enjoyable pages are present-day encounters with a fervently communist doctor, a chain-smoking student of Faulkner and novelist Shirley Hazzard, one of Naples’ many devoted longtime, part-time residents. Though this is a highly personal book, the Neapolitan spirit is palpable: “the being-visible-now, the quasi-divinity that flows from a fundamentally theatrical sense of life,” as Taylor puts it in a characteristically ecstatic, evocative assessment.

Packed with elegant aperçus and vibrant with the author’s rueful understanding that “Naples the glorious and Naples the ghastly have always been one place.”

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15917-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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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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