An inviting tour through Florida’s personality and the colorful characters that make it up.




A chronicle of the eccentric, enigmatic nature of the state of Florida.

The history, culture, and citizenry of the Sunshine State have a less-than-savory reputation. Referred to by W. Somerset Maugham as “a sunny place for shady people,” Florida is a land of contradiction, a home to every variety of hustler, player, and exploitation artist, as well as Disney World. As Tampa Bay Times reporter, author, and native Floridian Pittman (The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid, 2012) points out in his unique and charming book that is part history, part travelogue, and part memoir, Florida is truly a one-of-a-kind state whose eccentricities can at times seem like parody. (There are innumerable anecdotes and factoids provided by the author to quote from, but perhaps it’s easier to mention the popular Twitter handle “Florida Man,” which shares bizarre news stories that capture a slice of the state’s oddball flavor.) However, Florida’s rakish reputation belies the state’s cultural and political clout. For every story like the naked man high on “bath salts” who brutally attacked a homeless person on a Miami highway in 2012, there are others like the case of Florida resident Terri Schiavo, whose medical condition sparked a national debate on end-of-life care—not to mention Florida’s infamous role tipping the 2000 presidential election. Pittman is smart to trace these extremes through Floridian history without making claims to a cause or common character trait that could explain away the strangeness that binds them. Like any good journalist, the author allows his deeply researched collection of Floridiana, which covers real estate, guns, politics, tourism, the elderly, and much more, to speak for itself. Though Pittman’s argument of Florida’s singular importance is disputable, he provides ample evidence to prove that the history of Florida’s endearingly cavalier spirit continues to live on.

An inviting tour through Florida’s personality and the colorful characters that make it up.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07120-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 8, 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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