Both a rollicking recap of the Roaring ’20s and a cautionary tale about how a government’s attempts to legislate and monitor morality are nearly always doomed.

Book- and magazine-publishing veteran Okrent (Public Editor #1: The Collected Columns (with Reflections, Reconsiderations, and Even a Few Retractions) of the First Ombudsman of The New York Times, 2006, etc.)—former editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Time and an editor at Knopf, Viking and Harcourt—joined forces early with filmmaker Ken Burns, and his new book will be prominently featured in a 2011 Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary about Prohibition. The author assembles a phenomenal cast of characters who emerged during Prohibition’s conception, birth, swift life and death. Evangelist Billy Sunday, P.T. Barnum, Jack London, hatchet-wielding Carry Nation, Wayne Wheeler (of the Anti-Saloon League), Jane Addams, Warren G. Harding, Andrew Mellon, Eliot Ness, Al Capone, Andrew John Volstead and countless others strutted across the stage and then, frequently, disappeared. Okrent muses about the evanescent fame/notoriety of Wheeler, for example, who for a time made Senators tremble and was among the most powerful men in America—but who’s heard of him now? The author skips around the country to examine the vast dimensions of the crime, corruption and plain disregard for the law that ensued when the 18th Amendment went into effect in January 1920. Liquor flowed in from Canada; entrepreneurs took drinkers on long Caribbean cruises; mom and pop got prescriptions for “medicinal” alcohol from physicians benefitting from kickbacks; racism and xenophobia reigned; Catholic churches and other religious institutions suddenly needed much more wine for rituals; and brewers and blenders tried near-beers and grape juices. In addition, the tax coffers emptied while gangsters bathed in liquidity. It took the Depression to help end it all—and the pervasive realization that only criminals were winning. Okrent’s style is bracing and wry, his research is vast and impressive and his insight is penetrating.


Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7432-7702-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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