An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.




The renowned historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction continues the story begun in his Bancroft Prize–winning In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003), recounting those events as they played out beyond the Blue Ridge.

The Civil War was fought on many fronts but perhaps none more malleable than that in the Great Valley, which runs from Pennsylvania through Maryland and into Virginia. There, writes University of Richmond president emeritus Ayers (What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History, 2005, etc.) in this luminous account, Union armies threatened the Confederacy with near impunity, while Rebel forces attempted to do the same, as at Monocacy, Chambersburg, and other northward forays. As the author chronicles, these movements were calculated as much to prolong the war in the hope of costing Abraham Lincoln the 1864 election as to achieve any lasting military victory, reason enough for Robert E. Lee to raid into Pennsylvania, thus “making Northerners feel what it meant to live in an occupied land.” Along the Pennsylvania border of this heartland, communities of emancipated African-Americans, who contributed many troops to the Union cause, suffered raids that returned prisoners to slavery—even as, late in the war, Lee endorsed using black troops in the Confederate ranks. More than any other place, Ayers argues persuasively, the valley had special reason to fear the resumption of campaigning in the spring of 1864, when it “could come under assault from north and south, east and west, inside and outside.” It was no less contested during Reconstruction, when voting laws were engineered to displace former rebels and impose rule by so-called carpetbaggers, an early instance of gerrymandering. As elsewhere in the South, the narrative on the war and its causes diverged from that favored in the North, building a lasting division even as the Supreme Court tolerated and even encouraged “complete legal segregation, disenfranchisement, and subjugation of black Southerners.”

An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-29263-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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