A thoroughly researched, elegantly written history.




Inquiring into the deep sources of British identity.

A classicist and chief arts writer for the Guardian, Higgins (It's All Greek to Me: From Homer to the Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World, 2010, etc.) crafts a delightful, deeply informed recounting of her journeys across Britain in search of its ancient Roman past. Whenever the Romans landed—possibly in 55 B.C.E.—they encountered an Iron Age Celtic society of regional tribes living in settlements of thatched roundhouses. Although contemporary archaeologists imagine the Celts had developed a “sophisticated culture” with “a wealthy elite,” they were unable to resist Rome’s military invasion in 43 C.E. and subsequent encroachment throughout the land. Visiting museums, talking with researchers, and marshaling a prodigious number of memoirs, histories, and travel books, Higgins illuminates Roman presence in Kent and Essex, London and York, Norfolk and the Cotswolds. In Bath, costumed interpreters portray Romans as “friendly, unthreatening, familiar”; Higgins, though, wonders if “there were other stories that might be buried in the stones…stranger and more frightening ones,” stories suggested, for example, by curse tablets, thrown into Bath’s sacred waters, containing “appeals to the goddess of the spring to punish those who have done you wrong.” The author also chronicles her walk along Hadrian’s Wall, built in 122 C.E. and extending 74 miles. “This wall in the wilds of northern Britannia divides nowhere from nowhere,” she observes. Although some archaeologists thought the wall marked the northernmost Roman habitation, recent discoveries show that the empire extended into Scotland. Roman rule ended around 408 C.E.; scholars disagree about the causes and also about the extent to which Britons were “Romanized.” Some argue that “the Roman-ness of Britain was at best a thin veneer,” and others question whether Rome’s “vulnerable military” encountered fierce guerrilla resistance. Unresolved, too, are questions about the spread of Christianity under the Romans. An appendix offers a guide for visiting Roman remains throughout Britain.

A thoroughly researched, elegantly written history.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1089-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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...


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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