A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.




Eminent historian Worster (Emeritus, American History/Univ. of Kansas; A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, 2008, etc.) offers a concise, often elegiac account of the end of the American centuries.

The supremacy of the United States in world affairs in the last 100-odd years, writes the author, is the product of a kind of perfect-storm historical accident that will never come again: it presupposes the discovery of a hitherto-unknown if suspected landmass full of underused, if used at all, resources and peopled, if peopled at all, by inhabitants who are easy to conquer and control. “Such a discovery,” writes Worster sagely, “could happen only once in the earth’s history.” Given the exploitation of that newfound continent, not for nothing is the tutelary spirit of Worster’s book Jay Gatsby, that great denizen of the “empty, soulless mansions” that give onto a view of an “impoverished, polluted wasteland.” Our time is up because our natural riches have been so badly squandered. Even when it seemed as if they were inexhaustible, Worster notes, warnings were coming from the likes of the economist Adam Smith that there would come a time when the economy would attain stasis and could grow no further, absent the domination of other lands and markets. That talk of a “stationary state,” Worster notes, has long been anathema, and anyone who has dared suggest that the country, continent, and planet have natural limits has been branded a pessimist. The most sacred American mantra of the rising superpower was instead “growth,” even if that has been tempered by modern realities. And what realities they are: following the old pioneer trails westward, Worster invites us to “imagine what the western half of the continent may feel like in the year 2100 A.D.,” when water, perhaps the most precious resource of all, is scarce and the prairies and deserts are depopulated.

A bracing, intelligent survey of wealth become immiseration, essential for students of environmental history.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-984495-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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