A good introduction to a significant historical period and encouragement for those with a great idea to continue seeking...




An exploration of how “we have always responded in two ways to the mystery of being: we have explored nature and supernature.”

Popular historian Wilson (The Traitor's Mark: A Tudor Mystery, 2015, etc.) covers a prodigious period of great thinkers and changing ideas from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, 1450 to 1750—no small feat. Acknowledging that superstition has been one of humanity’s most significant psychological responses to the unknown encourages us to look at great thinkers in their own times and in context. Medieval pagan magic conjured demons and was motivated by pursuit of wealth and personal adulation, whereas Christian magic drew on biblical references and ancient Jewish texts. The Neoplatonists, seeking the origin of religion and philosophy, envisioned three other types of magic: natural, celestial, and ceremonial. Whatever the source, many questions remained. The author’s chronicle of those attempting to understand these mysteries is formidable. He gives just enough biographical material to whet our appetites and see how these thinkers arrived at their conclusions, or lack thereof. Three main discoveries drove these new philosophers: the printing press, the microscope, and the telescope. The Bible was first printed in vernacular soon after the printing press was invented, and its availability raised many questions of interpretation. This fed the rise of individualism, giving ordinary people more questions to which the church had no answers; the threat to the church’s authority was real. The concept of thought processes was debated endlessly by those who rejected Aristotelian methods, including Galileo, and shifted the focus from unproven theory to observable fact. The author shows how the danger to the institution of the church was tangible and caused many to defer publication of their works. Furthermore, the dissemination of newfound knowledge caused a major re-evaluation of lives, leading to dislocation and wars. The debate between science and superstition has been revamped since medieval times, but it is certain to endure for centuries to come.

A good introduction to a significant historical period and encouragement for those with a great idea to continue seeking acceptance.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-645-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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