Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle...

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READING THE ROCKS

HOW VICTORIAN GEOLOGISTS DISCOVERED THE SECRET OF LIFE

The word “scientist” is Georgian, but the scientific habit of mind is Victorian—and quite British, as this popular history ably shows.

Award-winning biographer Maddox (Freud’s Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis, 2007, etc.) nicely blends literary and scientific biography in this study of 19th-century British geology and its practitioners, some of them poets as well as naturalists. Against the modern backdrop of evolution denial and the 6,000-year-old Earth, Maddox notes that the science had “been introduced at Oxford expressly in order to prepare the many students about to enter the Church to defend religion against science.” Indeed, she adds, some of the foremost early British geologists were clerics, not least among them Charles Darwin. The revolutionary central ideas about the Earth that Charles Lyell, James Hutton, Mary Anning, Louis Agassiz, and other early scientists formulated or added ammunition to were not just that Earth was unfathomably old, and far older than the biblical genealogy of Archbishop James Ussher—the one creationists now follow—could permit, but also that “all matter is atomic” and that all things evolve through processes of natural selection. Reading the rocks, as Maddox’s title would have it, reveals as much, but geology also gave material support and inspiration to scientists in other areas, including Darwin. Writing in accessible if sometimes overly dutiful prose, the author observes that the rise of these sciences helped bring the Romantic era to an end, for “no one cared about an individual perception but rather knowledge that could be exchanged as data and, as in scientific practice, duplicated and replicated.”

Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle introduction to early modern natural history, one of the last eras in which a gentleman (or gentlewoman) scholar might ever hope to have a solid grasp of every branch of science.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-912-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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