Ambitious though overly long; some streamlining would have been welcome. Still, a definitive account of a complex subject...




A doggedly detailed history of imperial America, beginning before the establishment of the republic and continuing to the present.

There’s more than one way to found an empire, which, writes Hopkins (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Cambridge; editor: Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local, 2006, etc.), “is a species of the genus expansion.” In the instance of the Roman and British systems, imperial power was imposed from outside by way of conquest and annexation, though with a few exceptions—e.g., Scotland was “acquired principally by negotiation and depended on local magnates to manage indigenous populations.” The word “manage” is particularly meaningful, for the author’s tome is largely a species in the genus economic history, and his principal concerns are the economic forces that propel and sustain empire. In the American case, empire was built in very modest measure on the actual acquisition of land—Hawaii being a strong case in point, one that figures prominently in the narrative as an economic and geopolitical prize—but more so on the hegemonic expansion of economic patronage. The collapse of tariffs and other market barriers enabled the spread of Pax Americana during the period between the Civil War and World War I, when, having “decolonized” by shaking off the last vestiges of membership in the British system, the U.S. became a power and then superpower. There is some question about how effective America has been as an imperial power. Certainly, Americans do not perceive of themselves as being part of an imperialist system, and isolationism is a constant thread in the nation’s history, for which reasons Henry Luce’s formulation of the last one as the “American Century” really doesn’t kick in until 1945. Still, there’s good cause for Hopkins to begin his vast book with the British experience in Iraq, a place to which more than one empire has gone to die, and to place the American experience in turn in the larger context of empires across history.

Ambitious though overly long; some streamlining would have been welcome. Still, a definitive account of a complex subject that’s hard to pin down.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-691-17705-2

Page Count: 960

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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