A stupendous long-form magazine piece masquerading as a book.




The story of one of the most vicious murders ever committed at sea.

On July 8, 1896, the Herbert Fuller, loaded with lumber intended for Buenos Aires, departed Boston with 12 people aboard: the captain, his wife, nine crew members, and one passenger. Less than a week into the journey, in the middle of the night, someone viciously butchered the captain, his wife, and the second mate, slamming each one’s head multiple times with the ship’s ax. But no one heard anything, and only three men could possibly have done it: Thomas Bram, the first mate who had argued with the second mate; Justus Westerberg, also called Charley Brown, an odd Swedish sailor with a murder conviction in his past; and Lester Monks, a young alcoholic Harvard dropout whose parents had paid his fare to get rid of him for a while. Since nobody aboard had a known motive, whodunit? And why? Former CBS News editor Koeppel covers the murder itself in two pages and then tries to follow the crew’s harrowing journey back to port, although there is no definitive narrative of what happened on that trip. Bram was convicted of murder even though strong evidence indicates he was innocent, and President Woodrow Wilson eventually pardoned him. In the rest of the narrative, the author details the lives of Bram and Monks. This should be the stuff of a gripping, can’t-put-it-down thriller, but the book is disappointing. Although Koeppel clearly conducted an impressive amount of research, there just isn’t enough information available to justify a book-length project, even one this slim. Consequently, the author fills the space with unimportant, unrelated details that do little to contribute to his story.

A stupendous long-form magazine piece masquerading as a book.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-306-90338-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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