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SELKIRK’S ISLAND

THE TRUE AND STRANGE ADVENTURES OF THE REAL ROBINSON CRUSOE

Literary history compressed into capsule-size that goes down like a charm.

Acclaimed literary biographer Souhami (Gertrude and Alice, 1997, etc.) profiles the island and the individual whose story inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel.

The author begins her narrative not with the man but with the place: Isla Juan Fernandez, “The Island,” a volcanic crag off the coast of South America teeming with flora and fauna in the early years of European exploration. She then turns to the world of late-17th and early-18th-century seafarers, in particular one William Dampier, a privateer able to con respectable Londoners into financing his semi-legal operations in the South Seas. Highest on any pirate’s list of targets was the legendary ship known as the Manila galleon, which plied its trade between ports in the Philippines and Mexico. Dampier engineered a two-ship voyage whose primary goal was the capture of this galleon; a seaworthy Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk signed on as master of the second ship. The expedition met with little success. Their pursuit of the galleon became an exercise in frustration, the few spoils that were seized caused divisions among crewmembers, and Dampier’s ineffectual leadership turned the other officers against him. In the fall of 1704, Selkirk was accused of inciting mutiny and abandoned on The Island; he remained there over four years. In 1709, he was rescued by a scouting crew from yet another Dampier-led voyage. Readers back in Europe could not get enough of the firsthand narratives about such disastrous voyages; Dampier himself wrote several about previous trips, and two men from the expedition that saved Selkirk wooed the public appetite with books about his tribulations and theirs. Robinson Crusoe, the fictional version Defoe wrote in a matter of months, appeared in April 1719. Souhami’s account is brief yet dense with catalogued arcana. Her speculations about Selkirk’s thoughts may be her own, but she brings the man and his shipmates to life.

Literary history compressed into capsule-size that goes down like a charm.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100526-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

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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