For World War II buffs, an illuminating study of a depressing year.



A history of the lead-up to World War II mostly from the point of view of Britain and Germany.

Despite the title, British historian Taylor, author of Dresden (2004), The Berlin Wall (2007), and other works of European history, covers the period from the October 1938 Munich Agreement through Germany’s invasion of Poland the following September. At their most loathsome during that year, Hitler and the Nazis achieved triumph after triumph against a dithering Britain and France. Cutting away regularly, the author uses diaries, letters, newspapers, surveys, and police reports to deliver a vivid account of how ordinary Britons and Germans reacted. Excepting many intellectuals and a few government officials, the average non-Jewish German admired Hitler. There was almost no unemployment despite a standard of living far below that in Britain and France, and the incessant patriotic cheerleading pleased almost everyone. Germans did not, however, want war, as Taylor clearly demonstrates. They liked the idea of acquiring more territory, but when Hitler promised to invade Czechoslovakia if it did not give up the Sudetenland, the absence of national enthusiasm disgusted him. As a result, in the summer before the war, Hitler’s propaganda machine poured out so much fake news denouncing Polish malevolence, depravity, and atrocities against its German minority that most felt invasion was justified. However, Britons wanted war even less than Germans, so much so that the Munich Pact produced almost universal cheers throughout the nation—although “once the initial joy at the avoidance of war had worn off there was a slow but steady growth of buyer’s remorse among many members of the general public.” This sentiment peaked in March 1939 when German troops occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia. At this point, most Britons agreed that Hitler was untrustworthy, and few objected when Britain and Poland signed a treaty that “guaranteed Polish independence.” That vague phrasing was easy to brush off, so Britain’s declaration of war after the invasion of Poland dismayed Germans from Hitler on down.

For World War II buffs, an illuminating study of a depressing year.

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00679-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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