In the hands of, say, Luc Sante, this tale of the London lowlife would have been gold. As it is, general readers should hold...




A tale of two crimes: the first, an endlessly juicy mystery that captivated England in the late 18th century; the second, the tragedy of that fascinating episode being done in by lifeless prose.

History profs Andrew (Univ. of Guelph) and McGowen (Univ. of Oregon) dredge up a sordid affair that figures in few standard histories of England, and one that begs to be turned into a film: two 40-something twin brothers fall under the spell of a skillful courtesan who enlists them in trying to pass off a forged bond; caught in the act, the brothers are nearly let off by their would-be victims but protest their innocence a little too loudly; enter the constabulary, the judiciary, and the hangman. The tale, open-and-shut in the eyes of the presiding judge, turns out to be a bit more complicated: in exploring the case of the brothers Perreau and the beguiling Mrs. Rudd, the authors call forth conflicting testimonies, contemporary newspaper accounts marked by a loose regard for the facts, and the political climate in a time of colonial revolt and widespread anti-Scottish and anti-Semitic sentiment, all of which had bearing on the outcome. Andrew and McGowen are careful researchers, and they do a good job of elucidating the social history of the time and some of the Rashomonish qualities of Perreau/Rudd affair. Ultimately, however, their bloodless exposition overcomes the inherent interest of the story: “Although newspaper accounts dominated discussion of the case, they were supplemented by the several versions of events that appeared in pamphlet form”; “Although publishers expressed a general commitment to fairness, objectivity, and honesty, the conditions of publication militated against their realization”; “The actions undertaken to bring Mrs. Rudd to trial struck some as an abuse of power loaded with disturbing consequences for society.” And so on, until it all becomes such a bitter chore to read that only the most dogged student of the era will persist to the index.

In the hands of, say, Luc Sante, this tale of the London lowlife would have been gold. As it is, general readers should hold out for the movie.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-520-22062-5

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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