A timely contribution to the literature of civil rights.




The murder of young Emmett Till in 1955 stands today as a byword for racist injustice. How it became so is the subject of this well-conceived work of social history.

Gorn (Chair, American Urban History/Loyola Univ. Chicago; Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year That Made America’s Public Enemy Number One, 2009, etc.) begins his account with the end of Till’s life—that is, with the gruesome murder in which the young black man was mutilated and tossed into a Mississippi river, his body weighted down with a part from a cotton gin. “We could tell by looking at it that it was a colored person,” said a white farmer who recovered the body. Infamously, Till, visiting from Chicago, was killed for supposedly flirting with a white woman. It was one of countless lynchings, made public in good measure because Till’s mother demanded an open casket, saying, “let the people see what they did to my boy.” The woman’s husband was implicated in a tale of justice and injustice that Gorn examines from many angles: the conduct of the investigation; the reverberations of the Till case in the civil rights movement that was then gathering force, especially as reported by the black press; and, today, how the memory of the Till case is presented in history books, museum exhibits, and the like. As the author documents, the proceedings made a textbook example of Southern apartheid, with a sheriff on the stand lying (he maintained that the body was black because it was sunburned, for instance) and with white supremacists defiantly proclaiming that Till was to be just the first of countless victims. Combing archives and libraries, Gorn assembles a solid case study in how an isolated legal case spread nationally and internationally—and in how, today, the once-exultant supremacist claim that no white would ever go to jail for killing a black person in Mississippi has since been disproven, though racism is far from disappearing.

A timely contribution to the literature of civil rights.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-932512-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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