A detailed study based on the previously forgotten files of the army's Civil Warera Bureau of Military Information, buried in a storage room until 1959 when they were found by the author in Washington's National Archives. Fishel, a career intelligence officer at the National Security Agency, dispels the many romantic legends of superior spying by the Confederates as mostly fiction; he concludes that the North, after a poor start, became more adept than the South. He carefully describes the spying that helped shape the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac from Bull Run in 1861 through the Peninsula, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, and on to Grant's great 1864 Virginia campaign. Fishel finds much fault with George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, and his adviser, the famous detective Allan Pinkerton, hinting at a conspiracy to inflate the estimates of the numbers of enemy soldiers to justify McClellan's inaction and his pleas for more troops. Civil War intelligence is depicted here as a constant cat- and-mouse search for the enemy. Information was obtained by the Bureau, beginning in 1863, in a variety of ways: from cavalry scouts, balloons, telescopes, and spies, somewhat superseding Pinkerton's method of interrogating prisoners, deserters, runaway slaves, and civilian refugees, who were sometimes Confederate ``plants.'' Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Fishel says, were masters at fooling the enemy, deftly using misinformation, feints, sudden disappearances, and surprise attacks. The North's greatest intelligence feat, according to the author, was tracking Lee's 150- mile march into Pennsylvania and taking the high ground at Gettysburg, negating the widespread opinion that the two armies met there by chance. Fishel's prodigious, breakthrough research provides a treasure trove for historians to ponder and constitutes a real addition to Civil War history. The dense prose, however, makes one long for the graceful style of a Catton, a Foote, or a McPherson. (24 maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 1996

ISBN: 0-395-74281-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1996

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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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