Top-notch military history.

READ REVIEW

FIRST TO FLY

THE STORY OF THE LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE, THE AMERICAN HEROES WHO FLEW FOR FRANCE IN WORLD WAR I

The word “legendary” is overused in military history, but it is almost an understatement for the Lafayette Escadrille.

Flood (Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year, 2011, etc.) produced a string of memorable histories before his death in 2014. This one centers on a cast of characters as wild as any in fiction. The Lafayette Escadrille was made up of American volunteers, pioneering fighter pilots at a time when flight itself was still in its infancy. The squadron had a core of rich Ivy Leaguers, but its members came from all backgrounds, including an Alaskan dog trainer and a couple of cowboys. Few of them had ever flown planes. They drank heavily, enjoyed the sexual favors of numerous willing Frenchwomen, had a pair of lions as mascots, and wore a variety of nonregulation uniforms. They flew combat missions in flimsy wooden planes against better-trained and -equipped German pilots. Miraculously, some of them survived their first dogfights and went on to become aces. From the founding of the squadron to final armistice, 27 of the 38 men who flew missions survived. Flood tells their stories, based on their own accounts, with more emphasis on the personalities than on tactics and strategy. One of the most colorful was Bert Hall, a gambler, womanizer, and part-time spy whose memoirs provided plentiful—if sometimes self-aggrandizing—material. A more modest flier, Edmund Genet, was a deserter from the U.S. Navy who kept a detailed diary before dying on a mission in 1917. Flood also draws on German sources, giving us glimpses of the war as seen by the likes of “Red Baron” von Richthofen and Hermann Goering. While the author doesn’t always provide dates—perhaps that’s too much to ask with such an undisciplined unit as his subject—his portrayal of the fliers and the crazy life-and-death world they lived in is priceless.

Top-notch military history.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2365-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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