Both a lucid history and a gripping cautionary tale. (b&w photos, not seen; 19 maps)




An engaging, thoroughly researched account of Nazi Germany’s surprising, rapid defeat of French and Allied forces in the spring of 1940.

Historian May (The Kennedy Tapes, 1997) argues that “fatal misjudgments” of the Allied command brought a defeat that was “almost inconceivable” to just about all the participants. Prior to the German victory, virtually no one but Hitler himself believed that the superior forces of France (allied with Britain, the Netherlands, and—too late—Belgium) could lose. With the swift felicity of a scholar in total command of his subject, May moves from Berlin to London to Paris, describing and assessing the decision-making and the decision-makers. We meet a Hitler who, though a late sleeper and habitual moviegoer, had “a broader conceptual framework than his professional advisers and a broader base of knowledge.” His strident, intransigent insistence on having his way is one of the principal reasons for Germany’s military successes from 1938 to 1940, and also accounts for Britain’s ability to evacuate nearly 340,000 men from Dunkerque (Hitler had issued a puzzling stop order that prevented his forces from capturing or killing tens of thousands). The German invasion involved an elaborate feint in Belgium, followed by a major attack through the Ardennes Forest (the so-called “Plan Yellow”), which succeeded because the “best French soldiers [were] in the wrong places, and the worst-prepared French soldiers” found themselves confronting “the best that the Germans had.” May notes a number of eerie parallels to our own day (when Americans expect to fight wars without casualties). Hitler, for instance, believed that the French were “preoccupied with their comfort” and that the British were “materialists” who would “quit once their pocketbooks suffered.” Among May’s many provocative conclusions are that the “imaginativeness” of Nazi planners far surpassed that of the Allies and that “Allied intelligence services performed abominably.” Many informative notes, a 50-page bibliography.

Both a lucid history and a gripping cautionary tale. (b&w photos, not seen; 19 maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8090-8906-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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