This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones...




At Runnymede in 1215, King John (1166-1216) signed the document that laid the foundation of our freedom. While not a myth, the reality is less glorious, writes British historian and media consultant Jones (The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, 2014, etc.) in this lively, popular account of the Magna Carta’s bumpy 800-year ride into immortality.

While contemporary historians often go easy on him, the author’s John is the villain of legend—but one who inherited a host of problems. His predecessors had strengthened England’s central government and weakened the aristocracy, partly in order to better finance their wars. By John’s accession to the throne, many were tired of yielding to an increasingly grasping monarchy. John quickly lost nearly all England’s extensive French possessions, and his expensive efforts to regain them provoked a rebellion, mediation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Magna Carta. Jones admits that the document was “something of a muddle, a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king, most of which concern arcane matters of thirteenth-century legal principles.” Rarely does a phrase reverberate such as “King John concedes that he will arrest no man without judgment nor accept any payment for justice nor commit any unjust act.” Both sides immediately resumed a civil war that ended with the monarchy’s victory a year after John’s death. For a century, kings reissued versions as reassuring pieces of public relations before it fell into obscurity, to be revived during the 17th-century English revolutions and in America a century later.

This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones has done his homework to produce an insightful, satisfying history of a beloved, if usually unread, icon of freedom.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42829-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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