A pungent evocation of the conflict and compromise between tradition and innovation that define modern urbanism.

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THE ONLY STREET IN PARIS

LIFE ON THE RUE DES MARTYRS

After taking a tart look at her adopted country in La Seduction (2011, etc.), Sciolino shows a softer side in this affectionate portrait of her Ninth Arrondissement neighborhood.

Not that the veteran foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Newsweek indulges in unbridled sentimentality. Yes, the author fell in love with her apartment when she walked into its cobblestoned courtyard and “was transported back to the first half of the nineteenth century,” and she praises the shop-lined rue des Martyrs 500 feet from her front door because it “has retained the feel of a small village.” But in an early chapter lamenting the closing of a family-run fish store, Sciolino acknowledges that the frozen fish sold for half the price at the local supermarket is actually pretty good. She still misses the chance to linger and talk fish at the old poissonnerie. She relishes the formal intimacy of relationships with the merchants, and her brisk, lucid prose conveys the charm of unspoken rules that govern all interactions: newcomers must prove they know the code before they too get the freshest piece of fish cut in the back room or the loan of a book they can’t afford to buy. Sciolino understands this mindset, because her Sicilian-American grandfather had the same distrust of strangers. Over the course of five years she became accepted enough to throw the wildly successful party bringing together the street’s two halves: the more gentrified lower portion in the Ninth, and the tawdrier, cheaper stretch that runs through Montmartre. “Le Potluck” closes the book on an elegiac note, but chapters in between also chronicle darker moments: a columnist who survived the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo lives on the rue des Martyrs, and a high school down the way annually commemorates 19 students and one teacher killed by the Nazis.

A pungent evocation of the conflict and compromise between tradition and innovation that define modern urbanism.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24237-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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