A breezy read through millennia of human development.




Pop archaeology about individuals responsible for a series of significant firsts.

“I set out to find out about not just humankind’s ancient firsts, but also about the people who accomplished them,” writes Cassidy. “This is a book about who these people were. What they did. And why it mattered.” It is a book about individual achievement during the long period of prehistory, before writing attached names or histories to the individuals who accomplished these firsts. In each entry, Cassidy, whose previous book, And Then You’re Dead, examined the science behind numerous outlandish ways to die, assigns a name to each individual and provides description and a story based on scientific research. Some of the subjects include the inventions of fire and clothing; the discoveries of soap, the Americas, and Hawaii; the first case of smallpox; and “the murderer in the first murder mystery.” Regarding the invention of clothing, Cassidy pays tribute to the person “who ended the million-year streak of nudity. I’ll call him Ralph, after Ralph Lauren, because the evidence suggests that when our Ralph made his insight, he was interested in fashion as much as function. (And I’ll call him a him because in truth, I don’t know. I flipped a coin.)” So, we’re really not that much closer to knowing who specifically invented clothes or whether it is even possible to give such individual credit. What is interesting in the research has more to do with the why and how than the individual involved. Throughout these chapters, the subjects of which may strike readers as random, whoever did it remains a matter of speculation, but the significance of the legacy that followed is a story worth telling. The “Sources and Further Reading” section will prove helpful for readers seeking deeper dives into the various subjects.

A breezy read through millennia of human development.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313275-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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