An admirable history of a lesser-known Roman era.



A fresh look at a little-known corner of the history of the Roman Empire.

Alaric, born around 370 C.E., led an army that sacked Rome in 410; this expert history describes his life but mostly his times. Boin, a professor of history and the author of Coming Out Christian in the Roman World, emphasizes that Rome’s “decline and fall” was a concept invented by later historians. No fourth- or fifth-century Roman believed the empire was “falling” even though times were difficult. Almost nothing is known of Alaric’s early life, and only a few historians, not all of whom were contemporaries, recorded his later accomplishments, most of which were military actions. Alaric was born into a Gothic tribe that, a few years later, under pressure from Huns invading from the north, migrated into Roman territory. As recent immigrants, they were denied the benefits of Roman citizenship, which caused resentment as well as economic hardship. By the second century, Romans had lost interest in most military matters, so the army had become dependent on “barbarians.” Alaric enlisted as a young man and quickly rose to high rank. Around 395, having won an important victory, he quit the emperor’s service, apparently frustrated at being denied promotion, and was elected ruler of his tribe (later known as Visigoths). For the remainder of his life, he fought against Rome, invaded and plundered Greece, and laid siege to Rome three times. Twice, he was bought off, but the third attack resulted in the sack, during which his men plundered but (rare for the time) did not massacre the citizens. A few months later, as his army and tribe wandered Italy, he died. Although Alaric never comes fully to life as an individual, Boin delivers a revealing account of the late Roman empire, which was misgoverned, retreating from its frontier provinces, and almost perpetually at war but still certain it was the epitome of civilization.

An admirable history of a lesser-known Roman era.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63569-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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