A Russian scholar opens up new, even startling historical connections.




Fresh research at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow (since closed) yields an insightful new look at Russia’s pivotal role in the making of World War I.

In this massive yet palatable work of research, scholar Lieven (Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace, 2010, etc.), a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the British Academy, concentrates on Russian foreign policy as it maneuvered through shifting currents of “modern empire” and nationalism in the years leading up to Russia’s entry in the war. The author emphasizes how the notion of imperialism was as pertinent within Europe as outside of it, namely in Austria’s regard of Serbia as existing within its own orbit. Similarly, Russia was casting envious glances at Constantinople and the straits as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. Moreover, the fate of Ukraine—its population, industry, and agriculture—would tip the balance of European power as decisively then as it has today. Lieven engagingly sets out his history on two levels: the “God’s-eye view,” encompassing the big themes of geopolitics and balance of power; and the “worm’s-eye view,” which depicts how a handful of male leaders made the crucial decisions within a two-week period in July 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that would affect millions of people. Factors that fed international tensions included Germany’s paranoia regarding Russia and the sense of an inevitable war between “the Teuton and the Slav,” the role of the press as it “rattled and bedeviled policy makers,” the lack of trust in Czar Nicholas II, and the rise of ethnic nationalism. The Russian empire’s internal makeup was enormously complicated, and Lieven painstakingly walks readers through the important precursors—e.g., the revolution of 1905 and the Anglo-Russian entente of 1907—while introducing the key decision-makers.

A Russian scholar opens up new, even startling historical connections.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-02558-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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