An entertaining assessment of a watershed moment in American life and its lasting effect on popular culture.

READ REVIEW

BROADCAST HYSTERIA

ORSON WELLES'S WAR OF THE WORLDS AND THE ART OF FAKE NEWS

A skeptical look at the panic that might have been.

Just as literature was created the day a boy cried wolf when there was no wolf, the birth of fake news in the United States may have been Oct. 30, 1938, when a rising young radio celebrity cried Martian when there was no Martian. His name, of course, was Orson Welles (1915-1985), and he unleashed a radio production that convinced a number of people that space invaders had arrived in tiny Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and were proceeding to burn a path of destruction along the East Coast that would shame Gen. Sherman. Listeners throughout the country fled their homes in terror—or did they? That’s the question raised in this book by Schwartz, who persuasively argues that Martian hysteria was largely a media invention. Drawing on both ratings and hundreds of archived original letters from listeners (both pro and con) addressed to the FCC and CBS, Schwartz easily dismantles the idea that Welles alarmed the nation, as most people were tuned to another station. Among actual listeners, many knew the program was fiction, either because they heard it announced as such at the beginning or because they saw through it—and loved it. Relatively few people lost their grips on reality, but the press saw them as the majority and never bothered to check if they actually were. “No journalist ever made a serious attempt to figure out how much of the country had even heard the broadcast,” writes the author, “much less how many in its audience were frightened.” Myth became hardened into fact by a popular academic study, which Schwartz reveals was largely shaped to fit an unexamined hypothesis. The author credibly shows that the problem wasn’t the fake broadcast but the fake interpretation—“a newspaper exaggeration born of haste and misunderstanding”—that chilled creative expression. Advertisers, fearful of offending audiences, wanted shows that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Welles’ first great triumph also effectively killed the golden age of radio.

An entertaining assessment of a watershed moment in American life and its lasting effect on popular culture.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8090-3161-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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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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