Hobsbawm speaks to the crucial need for engaged public intellectuals and the kind of rigorous social and political analysis...




The last writings of an eminent British historian.

Hobsbawm (How to Change the WorldTales of Marx and Marxism, 2011, etc.), who died in 2012, gathers 22 essays that represent his deep and wide historical interests: 19th-century European culture, the role of the public intellectual, and the relationship of art to science, revolution and power. Selections include book reviews, journal articles and lectures, half previously unpublished. Hobsbawm characterizes the present as intellectually shattered: “an era of history that has lost its bearing, and which in the early years of the new millennium looks forward…guideless and mapless, to an unrecognizable future.” Science, religion and the arts, he contends, have lost their cultural force, and the current distrust of science marks a vast change from the 19th-century belief that it “held up the temple of progress.” The author champions such influential thinkers as chemist J.D. Bernal, author of The Social Function of Science (1939), and biochemist Joseph Needham, author of a groundbreaking history of Chinese science; both men aimed to affect “changing relations…between science and society.” Hobsbawm sees a “major cause for alarm” in the “rise of radical but predominantly right-wing ideologies” within Protestant Christianity and Islam. Fundamentalist movements are concerned not with fostering community but with “powerful, individual spiritual experiences.” The arts, he writes, no longer “function as measures of good and bad, as carriers of value: of truth, beauty and catharsis,” but instead have become merely consumer items for personal satisfaction. “Who can tell,” he asks, “on what terms reason and revived anti-reason will coexist in the ongoing earthquakes and tsunamis of the twenty-first century?” Global movements toward widespread suffrage and representative governments, he asserts, are undermined by weak leadership and uninformed, thoughtless voters.

Hobsbawm speaks to the crucial need for engaged public intellectuals and the kind of rigorous social and political analysis so well represented by these urgent and important essays.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59558-977-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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