Far-ranging, fluent, and thoughtful—of considerable interest to students of history writ large, and not just of Europe.



A thorough survey of the European continent in the time between antiquity and modernity.

Traditionally, the Middle Ages are said to begin with the fall of Rome. As to the period’s end, some have placed it as late as the arrival of Columbus to Hispaniola, some a century before. Wickham (Medieval History/Univ. of Oxford), author of the excellent survey The Inheritance of Rome (2009), has little interest in precisely setting the dates or connecting modern outcomes to past causes. “History is not teleological: that is to say, historical development does not go to; it goes from,” he writes. What it goes from is a time when the Roman Empire splintered into smaller, more local states that would occasionally be gathered into later efforts at empire—the one of Charlemagne, for instance, namesake of an era whose leaders “presided over the largest-scale attempt to rethink politics in the whole of the middle ages.” There were advantages to smallness and localism; the Saxons, for instance, were difficult to subdue “because they were not a unitary people,” whereas post-Saxon England, more unified in that sense, was relatively easy to rule, “cohesive and densely governed.” Along the way, Wickham examines modern misunderstandings, particularly about medieval politics. Though many systems were parliamentary in name, he observes, parliaments tended to serve the monarch and not the people, though the people were many—as he notes, most medieval people were bound to subsistence agriculture, the peasantry as polity. In keeping with his earlier work, the Roman Empire is a constant reference for both Wickham and the people themselves; as he writes, “one thing which remained constant throughout the middle ages was the importance of the old Roman imperial frontier.” In a very real way, teleology aside, the modern world is framed by the divisions within and limits of Rome, whose influence, Wickham chronicles, was felt in other ways far beyond the time of the last emperor.

Far-ranging, fluent, and thoughtful—of considerable interest to students of history writ large, and not just of Europe. 

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-20834-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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