A zesty, entertaining romp through the landscape of French food.




A Francophile takes a spirited jaunt through French history, focused on food.

A resident of Paris since 1986, Downie (A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, 2015, etc.), whose enthusiasm for food and travel has resulted in more than a dozen books, offers a loving, celebratory, and irreverent look at French eating habits, from ancient times to the present. Short, pithy chapters brim with quirky details: frog legs, so quintessentially French, were “beloved of the centurions and gourmets of antiquity”; mustard, too, was a Roman favorite. Not until the 17th century did dining rooms exist in Parisian residences, and knives and forks came late to the French table. In the court of Louis XIV, diners ate “quickly and greedily,” licking their fingers with pleasure. Meals were abundant: “everyone but the poorest devoured unimaginable quantities of meat,” including veal, mutton, beef, and various species of bird, along with eel and fish. In the 1700s, French cuisine became “the unofficial state religion,” and “nouvelle cuisine” was invented, with “theorists, chemists, chefs, philosophers,” and assorted other experts engaged in parsing the meaning of taste “and the differences between gluttons, gourmets, gastronomes, and other varieties of eaters.” The first restaurants appeared in the mid-1700s; by 1789, there were about 50, which burgeoned to 3,000 by 1814. Downie recounts the culinary influence of Grimod de la Reynière and his more famous contemporary Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of many food-related aphorisms. “The destiny of nations,” he wrote, “depends on the way they feed themselves.” The author also offers capsule reviews—not always favorable—of some of Paris’ 10,000 restaurants. He is not a fan of pretension, noise, corporate ownership, stratospheric prices, or what he calls “karaoke cuisine,” characterized by “industrial sauce,” microwaved entrees, “multiple courses for under $20,” and “pink and familiar decor.” His disdain is especially harsh regarding “super-bobo” eateries with “could-be-anywhere cooking.”

A zesty, entertaining romp through the landscape of French food.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08293-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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