A few chapters will elicit a response of “so what?” But there’s enough adventure, gore, and mystery to make this volume...




Hitler’s love child and other shocking speculations.

In the mode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Milton (Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution, 2014, etc.) has assembled an easily digestible compendium of historical oddities about the famous and infamous, including Hitler and Lenin, Agatha Christie (who went missing, inexplicably, for 11 days in 1926), Charles Lindbergh, and a 19th-century eccentric who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. As he romps through the past, the author introduces a physician who plied Hitler with “an extraordinary cocktail of drugs, many of which are these days classed as dangerous, addictive, and illegal”; a pair of lovers who had a hard time poisoning the woman’s husband; a shipwrecked party who resorted to cannibalism; and a “prolific murderess” of infants. Some vignettes highlight bizarre coincidences: a man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima fled to Nagasaki, only to experience yet another “blinding white flash.” In 1945, Pastor Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife took five schoolchildren on a picnic in southern Oregon. Suddenly, there was an explosion—a new Japanese weapon, a balloon bomb, killed everyone except Mitchell. In 1960, serving as a missionary in Vietnam, he was captured by the Viet Cong, never to be seen again. Some episodes, such as Hitler’s last days, the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping, Adolf Eichmann’s capture, and a Japanese soldier’s insistent fighting of World War II until 1974, may be familiar to history buffs. Less known is the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, who smuggled Jewish babies out of Poland; Ota Benga, an African pygmy, who, in 1906, was caged with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo; and South African Sarah Baartman, forced to exhibit herself as the “Hottentot Venus.”

A few chapters will elicit a response of “so what?” But there’s enough adventure, gore, and mystery to make this volume mostly entertaining.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07877-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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