A ripping good read, strange, suggestive, and memorable.




A wild ride down the back alleys of London in the service of "Ripperology.”

His title dripping with irony, British director/screenwriter/actor Robinson (The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, 1999, etc.) takes aim at the pieties of Victorian Britain, a time when sex, drugs, and the moral equivalent of rock ’n’ roll were readily available to anyone who could afford them. Against a setting of streetwalkers and junkies, the author opposes the old boys of the empire (“Kitchener was an imperious bully even when he didn’t need to be”), stout fellows who exchanged secret handshakes and kept one another’s secrets—good reason, one might think, to suspect that the penny-dreadful serial killer nicknamed Jack the Ripper might have been a card-carrying member. He was no Rotarian or Elk, Robinson continues, but a full-fledged Freemason, and his secret was protected through a web of accident and design, doubtless with the assistance of the cops—for the commissioner of Metropolitan Police, “a lousy cop and a worse soldier” whose “God inclined to the hard right—probably something like Kitchener in freshly laundered clouds,” made sure that the Ripper was untroubled by justice, whether by ineptitude or design. Robinson names names, eventually settling on a fellow close to another fellow on whom suspicion has fallen and lifted and fallen again for a dozen decades now: “the conspiracy to airbrush [him] out of his own history was cooked up a very long time ago.” The book takes a whirlwind tour of a lost world, with its Dickensian “street Arabs” and cockney rhymes. Whether Robinson has hit on the solution to the Ripper’s identity, finally, will be a matter for Ripperologists and criminologists alike to debate. What he has done is to produce a lively, oddball work of literature that blends true crime, social history, and the occasional whiff of psychedelia into an utterly original whole—good reason for the book to have been longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

A ripping good read, strange, suggestive, and memorable.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-229637-5

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 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...


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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