A compelling biography of one of the great historical enigmas of the last century. (24 pages of b&w photos and...



A fascinating history of the Russian visionary Rasputin, whose strange influence over the imperial family during the twilight of the Romanov dynasty reads like something out of a gothic novel.

Radzinsky is an accomplished playwright and biographer (The Last Tsar, 1992; Stalin,1996). Here he follows up on his earlier portrait of Nicholas II and the various figures, wholesome and malign, who orbited around him during the last years of his reign. Rasputin was a faith healer, spiritualist, drunk, and lecher. A Siberian peasant whose origins were as murky as his aims, Rasputin did not leave a terribly clear account of himself behind. Most of the primary-source texts describing him were written either by his enemies or by the secret police, and Rosengrant’s fluid translation allows us to follow the highly byzantine paper trail Rasputin bequeathed to his future biographers. Radzinsky places his young subject deep in the Siberian pastimes of alcohol and lawlessness. The climax of these early years of debauchery and violence, according to Rasputin’s own account, was a strange and overwhelming epiphany that literally hit him in the face, inducing in him a cleansing repentance from the blood and pain of his youth. He left a young family for years of penitential wandering across the length and breadth of “Holy Russia,” and eventually joined a strange flagellant cult of `Christ Believers` who mixed Orthodoxy with paganism. Sweaty, ecstatic dancing and singing led to `promiscuous sexual relations among the sect membership . . . where the Holy Spirit descended upon them . . . and the sect would try to conceive . . . new Christs and Mothers of God.` Soon Rasputin had developed a cult of his own, one that eventually brought him to the attention of the imperial court. Radzinsky reveals the secret behind Rasputin's psycho-spiritual hold on the tsarina and many other powerful women and men, and fleshes out the wide picture of Rasputin's many friends and foes, including the wealthy transvestite who murders him.

A compelling biography of one of the great historical enigmas of the last century. (24 pages of b&w photos and illustration)

Pub Date: May 4, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-48909-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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