A welcome and engaging work that does honor to Sobel’s subjects.




Popular science writer Sobel (And the Sun Stood Still, 2016, etc.) continues her project of heralding the many contributions of women to science.

If you took an astronomy course in college, you learned a still-current classification system for the stars whose origins stretch back to the 1880s as well as a geography in which a star such as HD 209458—which “made news when modern detection methods located a planet in orbit around it”—finds its place in the star charts. Though the Henry Draper Catalogue bears a man’s name, it was the work of the women he hired as “computers” who did most of the analysis that fueled it. Draper, an astronomer and technologist, funded that work, overseen by a Harvard scientist named Edward Charles Pickering, who thought it ungallant to have women scrambling about in the cold and dark with the telescopes but thought that “women with a knack for figures could be accommodated in the computing room, where they did credit for the profession.” So they did, and Sobel’s heroines, at 25 cents per hour, made signal contributions to observational astronomy. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, for instance, took on the Great Nebula in Orion, discovering hundreds of variables, while the indomitable Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming ran an efficient shop while making enough advances on her own that, largely overlooked in her own country, she was made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1906. Often, even as they made major discoveries, the “computers” of Harvard College Observatory left it to the males who ruled science to bask in their glory. More than recounting and celebrating the lives and work of these distinguished and decidedly unsung women, Sobel also provides insight into how basic science research is now supported, thanks to lessons learned in the military and commercial applications of once-arcane technologies—though, even after World War II and their contributions to it, women found it as difficult as ever to find scientific work.

A welcome and engaging work that does honor to Sobel’s subjects.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-01695-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?