The pioneering 1929 and 1937 sociological studies of ``Middletown''—the small city of Muncie, Indiana—said almost nothing about the community's 200 Jews. This work, while not altogether satisfying, goes a significant way toward describing Jewish life there during the first three-quarters of this century. Reading these interviews with Muncie Jews whose roots in the community go back to the 1920s, one is struck by how professionally homogeneous they were : Almost all the heads of households were merchants. Almost as notable is their lack of religious and cultural resources: There was and is one Reform temple (serviced by a visiting student rabbi) and a chapter of the fraternal organization B'nai B'rith. This has resulted in much intermarriage- -apparently, a critical mass of Jews is needed for a community to endure—and some syncretistic religious practices by those who have remained Jewish; one woman recalls how her family lit Sabbath candles each Friday night but also had a Christmas tree. The word ``tenuous'' in the book's subtitle is well chosen. Revealingly, not a single interviewee recalls the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 or mentions visiting there. Finally, the interviews reveal the extent of anti-Semitism in Muncie. In his useful introduction, Hoover (History/Ball State Univ.) estimates that fully ten percent of the town's citizens were members of the Ku Klux Klan during the '20s, and that restrictive covenants in housing persisted until the mid-'50s. This book could have benefited had Rottenberg, a Philadelphia-based journalist, and Hoover noted the broader political, socioeconomic, and cultural context in Muncie and provided some hard data on such questions as: What exactly was the intermarriage rate at various periods, or, how did the Jews' educational and income levels compare with those of their fellow Muncie-ites? Yet if this history is somewhat ``soft,'' it still is a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-253-33243-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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