Thought-provoking and studded with piercing ironies.




A frank look at the complexities and contradictions of the civil rights movement, particularly with regard to the intertwined issues of nonviolence and self-defense.

A former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, veteran journalist Cobb (On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, 2007, etc.) studies the civil rights revolution at the grass-roots level rather than through the leadership. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference officially adopted nonviolent resistance in the form of sit-ins, boycotts and demonstrations, yet these tactics were viewed skeptically by some activists. Violence against black resisters was so prevalent and pernicious, Cobb writes, that retaliatory violence was neither unheard of nor indeed unexpected. The peaceable sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Feb. 1, 1960, for example, contrasted markedly with a subsequent violent clash between black demonstrators and the white mob that set upon them during a sit-in in Jacksonville, Florida. Self-defense with firearms often went hand in hand with nonviolent resistance—indeed, it “ensured the survival…of the freedom struggle itself.” Cobb backs up this rather perplexing statement with a variety of historical material, pointing out that blacks in the rural South had relied on guns to protect their families against white supremacist violence since the time of Reconstruction. The author also characterizes slave insurrections as “the taproot of the modern freedom struggle” and explores the contradiction of African-Americans serving in the U.S. military while being deprived of basic civil rights. Yet while retaliatory violence might have been the norm in some communities, it could not bring the vast, radical change that nonviolence did.

Thought-provoking and studded with piercing ironies.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-465-03310-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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