Vigorous—even abrasive—reporting illuminates yet another dismal page of history’s darkest book. (4 b&w illustrations)




A contributing editor for the Nation assesses the unsuccessful libel action brought by historian David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt (and Penguin, her publisher) for characterizing him as a Holocaust-denier in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust.

Guttenplan did his homework. Not only did he sit through the three-month trial (January 11 through April 11, 2000), he also read the thousands of pages of trial exhibits, the historical works written by the principals and witnesses, and myriads of other publications relating to the Holocaust. Even better: He interviewed the trial judge, as well as both Irving and Lipstadt. The result is the most informed, disinterested account of this significant proceeding as we are likely to get. Irving filed suit in July 1996 in England. This was a smart move, for English libel laws required Lipstadt to prove that what she had said was true; in the US, Irving would have had to demonstrate that her charges were not only false but intentionally so. Guttenplan raises interesting questions about historical methods and evidence. What is history? How reliable are witnesses? And documents? (The author regrets that the only witnesses were historians, but he knows why: the sometimes inaccurate memories of Holocaust survivors would have aided the able Irving, who served as his own counsel.) Guttenplan adopts a fairly traditional, chronological approach—he digresses principally to offer snapshot biographies of Irving and Lipstadt, to dismantle the “science” of the pathetic Fred Leuchter (subject of Errol Morris’s film Mr. Death) and to take potshots at Daniel Goldhagen (whose Hitler’s Willing Executioners fares poorly in these pages). Guttenplan is not easy on anyone. He has little respect for Lipstadt’s scholarship and moral courage; he characterizes Irving as fundamentally racist, dishonest and dangerous; sometimes he finds witnesses ineffective, attorneys boring, the judge too indulgent. He suggests that Jews hurt their own cause when they insist on the uniqueness of the Holocaust. But the author’s sharpness has the great virtue of being able to cut through cant and balderdash.

Vigorous—even abrasive—reporting illuminates yet another dismal page of history’s darkest book. (4 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-02044-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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