A remarkable story fashioned into a dramatic narrative.

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LEVITTOWN

TWO FAMILIES, ONE TYCOON, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN AMERICA’S LEGENDARY SUBURB

Rolling Stone and Wired contributing editor Kushner (Journalism/New York Univ.; Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids, 2005, etc.) skillfully pieces together a shameful chronicle of racial discrimination during the American postwar economic boom.

The child of Jewish immigrants, Abraham Levitt became a successful real-estate developer in the midst of the Great Depression. He bought land on Long Island, the new frontier of suburbia, with sons Bill (the front man) and Alfred (the designer). They developed housing efficiently and sold it affordably. In 1946, they transformed the farming community of Island Trees, Long Island, into Levittown, a self-contained development geared toward the 16 million returning veterans. Proclaiming that “an undesirable class can quickly ruin a community,” Bill Levitt barred blacks from buying into the complex. This discrimination was supported by the ingrained business practices of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which gave higher marks to homogenous communities and “redlined” bad areas. However, after the opening of a second Levittown just north of Philadelphia in 1952, events converged to challenge these policies. Civil-rights groups made integrating the new Levittown a top priority, and Jewish activists Bea and Lew Wechsler invited the African-American Myers family to move in next door at 43 Deepgreen Lane in August 1957. Over the next months, the Myerses and Wechslers endured harassment, heckling, mob violence and cross-burning. Civil-rights sympathizers clashed with anti-integration residents. A KKK-sponsored organization secured a neighboring house for meetings, complete with display of the Confederate flag. Kushner’s immediate story of the trial and conviction of the racist mob’s leaders occurs within a larger frame of national civil-rights upheavals, including the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the murder of Emmett Till and the integration of Little Rock Central High School. The Levittown fracas, he demonstrates, was a crucial moment in the overall struggle.

A remarkable story fashioned into a dramatic narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1619-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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