Expanded from Lewis’s prizewinning New Yorker commentary following 9/11: an illuminating brief overview of Islam today.




The dean of Islamic studies in America ponders the current state of what is both a religion and a political system, and finds it wanting.

Mainstream Islam, at least in its ideal form, is at a far remove from the headline-conquering visions of the Islamicists, whether they be the ayatollahs of Iran or the terrorists of al-Qaeda. But, suggests Lewis (Near Eastern Studies Emeritus/Princeton Univ.; The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, 1999, etc.), the fundamentalists may be well along in shifting the center toward the extreme: “The medieval assassins were an extremist sect, very far from mainstream Islam,” he writes. “That is not true of their present-day imitators.” Witness, Lewis writes, the ever-growing power of Wahhabism, the conservative strain of Islam that now dominates Saudi Arabia, which Lewis persuasively likens to the Ku Klux Klan. “The custodianship of holy places [in Saudi Arabia] and the revenues of oil have given worldwide impact to what would otherwise have been an extremist fringe in a marginal country,” writes Lewis—an extremist fringe among whose notable products is Usama bin Ladin, as Lewis spells it, whose “declaration of war against the United States marks the resumption of the struggle for religious dominance of the world that began in the seventh century.” The Islamicists have been able to turn the disaffection of the young and impoverished against not merely America, writes Lewis, but against their home governments, which, after all, have done little to produce healthy societies. (For in every measurable respect of social and material well-being, Lewis writes, the Islamic world lags “ever farther behind the West. Even worse, the Arab nations also lag behind the more recent recruits to Western-style modernity, such as Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.”) Small wonder that so many young Muslims are so eager to fulfill the Quranic obligation of jihad, or “holy war,” by striking out against the West—though, Lewis is quick to add, “at no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder.”

Expanded from Lewis’s prizewinning New Yorker commentary following 9/11: an illuminating brief overview of Islam today.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-679-64281-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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