A lively, well-rounded look at politics and personalities in late-19th-century America.




A dynamic examination of America’s rush into the Spanish-American War.

On Feb. 15, 1898, a mysterious explosion destroyed the U.S.S. Maine off the coast of Cuba, killing more than 250 American crewmen. Though the cause is still unknown, many in the United States, including some powerful political figures, wanted a war—even one waged on false pretenses. Longtime Newsweek editor Thomas (Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941–1945, 2006, etc.) focuses on three men who were especially eager: Theodore Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley; Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and Roosevelt’s close friend; and William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy publisher. The author ably sketches the personalities of all three men and the hawkish beliefs that they, and a large part of the American public, shared. They saw the United States as the world’s protector, a nation that had a moral right to intervene in other countries’ affairs, or even seize other countries’ territory. Thomas also profiles two major dissenters: the powerful, dovish Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, who lost his best friend in the Civil War, and philosopher William James, who viewed the country’s policy of foreign conquest as a betrayal of the American value of self-determination. The author goes beyond politics as well, delving into the psychology of his principals. Roosevelt’s preoccupation with violence and physical toughness were certainly related to his warlike policies; Lodge’s reserved manner disguised a fierce determination; Hearst’s hawkishness seemed inextricably linked to his desire to boost circulation numbers. Thomas wisely keeps these engaging figures front and center, and his multifaceted portraits lend the book a sweeping, almost cinematic quality.

A lively, well-rounded look at politics and personalities in late-19th-century America.

Pub Date: April 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-00409-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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