Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”




How 500 years of European rule in the Caribbean helped determine the patterns of “human malfeasance” repeated globally to the present day.

In an ambitious work bringing together fragmented histories of more than 20 different islands across an area of 3,000 miles, journalist Gibson, a scholar of the Spanish Caribbean trained at Cambridge University, finds in the unifying theme of a colonial heritage the sobering legacy of exploitation, greed and inequality. A drive for “grain, gold and God” seized the first Portuguese explorers, while Christopher Columbus, infused in the work of Marco Polo, was so certain that he could navigate a passage to the East that when he landed at “San Salvador,” he was sure he had struck Polo’s Cipango—Japan. Yet this was not a land of Oriental splendor but rather islands occupied by humble indigenous peoples; nonetheless, “desire would triumph over reason,” which became a recurrent theme for hundreds of years. Sugar production—rendered profitable by the Portuguese and Genoese on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Canaries—was quickly established in these new colonies of the West Indies, along with tobacco, salt, coffee, cacao and, later, cotton. The distinctive and organized indigenous people were enslaved, killed by new diseases or converted, and new plants and animals were introduced, including farm animals, grapes and wheat (in addition to all manner of insects and microbes). A globalized factory system was thus put into place on Hispaniola, Cuba, Barbados and elsewhere, and the use of indentured servants was discarded in favor of African slaves. The hunger for luxury goods created a “growing global commodity chain” that would define the region, spurring world warfare and revolution once inequality between the haves and have-nots grew unsustainable. Bolstered by her travel experiences in St. Martin, Trinidad, Guyana and other places, Gibson delivers a useful, manageable history of the region.

Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2614-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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