A teeming, bloated, personality-rich panorama of the first truly international peace conference.


VIENNA, 1814


King (Finding Atlantis, 2005) paints a lively portrait of the lavish, months-long parade of banquets, love affairs and social competition held at the close of the Napoleonic wars.

With Bonaparte restlessly planning his escape from Elba, the four victorious Great Powers also needed to reconstruct war-battered Europe and set a lasting peace, the mechanics of which were better covered in Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (2007). They met in glittering Vienna, the elegant Hapsburg capital, beginning in October 1814. Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich, England’s Viscount Castlereagh, Prussian king Frederick William III and Tsar Alexander confronted France’s “double-edged sword,” Prince Talleyrand, who had engineered Napoleon’s ascent to power, then defeat, and couldn’t be trusted. With five million people dead and Europe devastated after two decades of war, hard decisions had to be made about the former French empire and its satellites. The dangerous characters of Metternich and Talleyrand jump off these pages, alternating with glimpses of Napoleon plotting his comeback, and his second wife, Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor, returning to Vienna to pine (briefly) for her exiled husband. Amid a flurry of secret diplomacy and espionage, principles for reconstructing Europe were established. Russia gained Poland, Finland and Bessarabia. Austria retained the Tyrol, Dalmatia and Istria, which brought it deeper into the Balkans and eventually embroiled it in World War I. Prussia got the Rhine and Saar territories, which aided its stunning 19th-century economic growth. Britain seized strategic islands and helped lock Europe into a balance of power. Moreover, King emphasizes, the Vienna Congress frequently broke new ground: Its participants discussed such humanitarian issues as civil rights for Jews, condemned the slave trade, restored stolen art, combated literary piracy and established the diplomatic hierarchy still in place today.

A teeming, bloated, personality-rich panorama of the first truly international peace conference.

Pub Date: March 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-33716-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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