A secondary but readable adjunct to Philip Fradkin’s broader-ranging Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906 (not reviewed).

SAN FRANCISCO IS BURNING

THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE 1906 EARTHQUAKE AND FIRES

Shake, rattle and roar: Firefighter-writer Smith (A Song for Mary, 1999, etc.) chronicles the conflagration that followed the great San Francisco quake.

“This town,” warned San Francisco fire chief Dennis Sullivan, “is in an earthquake belt. One of these fine mornings we will get a shake that will put this little water system out, and then we’ll have a fire.” Sullivan had long agitated for the improvement of an aging cistern system, but money for such renovation always disappeared somewhere inside the corrupt mayor’s office. The chief was one of the first firefighters put out of commission in the earthquake of April 18, 1906, and many other firefighters were killed or injured in the battle to contain the great fire that followed the quake, fueled by broken gas mains and feeding on the predominantly wooden-frame architecture of the city. (As Smith writes, America led the world in annual fire losses at the time “and continues this appalling average today,” with fire-related costs something like six times greater than those of Europe.) In the end, the San Francisco blaze was “bigger than any metropolitan fire in history,” killing more than 3,000 people, destroying 28,188 buildings and leaving 200,000 people homeless. In his vivid narrative, Smith highlights unsung firefighters and some of the more-or-less ordinary people who rose to necessity and became, for just that moment, great heroes. One such man, a naval officer named Freeman, was never properly acknowledged for his work in battling fires on the San Francisco wharves and piers, and Smith’s encomium is fitting, particularly given the tragic dénouement of Freeman’s story. Smith turns up much of interest, including reports of atrocities committed by the military during the blaze and a tally of the small number of insurance companies that actually paid what they owed to their policyholders.

A secondary but readable adjunct to Philip Fradkin’s broader-ranging Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906 (not reviewed).

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03442-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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