A brisk and richly detailed history of a significant place.



Drawing on a burgeoning of recent research and scholarship, as well as memoirs and chronicles, Jones (History/Queen Mary Univ. and Univ. of Chicago; The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris, 2014, etc.) creates an adroit overview of the transformation of Versailles from a rustic hunting lodge to France’s most sumptuous palace.

In the 1610s, the “shy, ungregarious and mildly misogynistic” Louis XIII, embroiled in religious conflicts, urban upheaval, and war, retreated to the unremarkable village of Versailles, where he surrounded himself with fellow hunters. Although he expanded his lodge a bit over the years until it resembled a country house, it was his son, Louis XIV, who turned the residence into a palace, relocating his court and government there. Dependent on fluctuating funds from the royal treasury, Louis devoted himself to micromanaging extensive renovation, expanding, modernizing (including bathrooms and portable porcelain stoves) and decorating, choosing as his personal motif the sun, “giver of life and centre of the universe.” His focus went beyond the main house to its sweeping gardens and to a château—“a more relaxed retreat for him and a select group of his closest courtiers”—five miles away, which became known as the Grand Trianon. For more than 50 years, Jones reports, “Versailles was probably the biggest building site in Europe.” It was also a site teeming with people: around 3,000 who lodged in the palace, several additional thousands who came for the day or lodged elsewhere, and tens of thousands of servants who resided in the town. The author recounts the fate of Versailles under Louis XIV’s heirs, who preferred glittering cultural life in Paris, and after the French Revolution, when Versailles was perceived as a glorification of the despised monarchy. Every successive regime—monarchy, empire, and republic—redefined the meaning, use, and relevance of Versailles. Private philanthropy and public support for France’s national heritage has ensured that Versailles endures as a “world-historical site of memory” and repository of history, art, and culture.

A brisk and richly detailed history of a significant place.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7338-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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