An erudite and breathtaking, if sometimes vexing, review of how our waning millennium might seem from the perspective of ``some galactic museum of the future.'' An American or European reader of the 1990s will be forgiven for thinking of this millennium as one of Western preeminence. This is a myopic viewpoint, contends historian Fern†ndez-Armesto (Columbus, 1991, etc.). Of the major civilizations in the year 1000, the relatively advanced Chinese-dominated civilizations of the Far East seem in retrospect most likely to have influenced world history. Fern†ndez-Armesto argues that by the 15th century, each of the four major civilizationsChina, Latin Christendom, Eastern Christendom, and Islamwas prepared for expansion. The expeditions of French, English, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese conquerors are depicted as a part of a worldwide trend toward empire-building that encompassed not only the major civilizations but also cultures of South America and the sub-Sahara. Fern†ndez- Armesto asserts that from the 16th century through the 19th, Europeans and Euro-Americans built an ``Atlantic civilization'' that, although frail, achieved dominance over natural resources and had transformative effects all over the world. When, after its brief hegemony, Atlantic civilization started to unravel, decolonization and ``counter-colonization'' (immigration and cultural domination of Atlantic countries by members of former colonies) ensued. Finally, the resurgent Islamic and Pacific civilizations are challenging the supremacy of Atlantic civilization. Although he takes the reader on a richly detailed, exciting journey through history, Fern†ndez-Armesto gets a bit too caught up with his Atlantic/Pacific categories (at one point he even classifies the economically vital state of California as part of his Pacific civilization) and ultimately mars his survey with some thinly reasoned speculations about the future. If his study has shown anything, it is that such facile predictions are likely to be wrong. Nonetheless, a scholarly, entertaining, and astonishing look at the enormous distance humankind has traveled in a historical instant. (400 b&w photos and illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the- Month Club alternate selection/History Book Club main selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-684-80361-5

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1995

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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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