An eccentric but accessible tour of a country’s fascinating past.




Debut author Gibbs offers a comprehensive and charmingly personal history of the Canadian nation.

The author became enchanted by the Great White North when he moved there from the United Kingdom in his 20s to work for the Canadian Marconi electronics company in Montreal. As a tribute to the nation he fell in love with, he decided to write its history—not a dry, academic one, of which there are many, but one based on his own travels from coast to coast, during which he visited more than 200 sites of historical significance. The author divides Canada’s development into five “ages,” starting some 12,000 years ago with its aboriginal inhabitants, hunter-gatherers from Northern Asia and North America. (Later, during a discussion of the country’s geology, he describes what Alberta might have been like as much as 400 million years ago.) The second section sees the European settlement of Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1600s, and Gibbs focuses on the cod trade and the power struggle between England and France. He recounts explorer Samuel de Champlain’s desire to found a New France in North America in the third part, which takes place during the first third of the 17th century. Gibbs’ account of the fourth significant epochal shift revolves around the fur trade—particularly the rivalry between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, which he says is a key element to understanding the eventual settlement of Western Canada. Finally, the author describes the rebellion against British rule that ultimately led to the establishment of a confederation. Overall, Gibbs’ history is surprisingly rigorous given its quirky, idiosyncratic structure, in which the author seems just as enthusiastic to remember his travels with his wife as he is to delve into scholarly analysis. The prose is unfailingly lucid throughout, and Gibbs’ encyclopedic knowledge of Canada is matched only by his infectious adoration of it. This shows in the final section, for example, in which the author paints an edifying picture of the resentment and suspicion that so many Canadians directed toward the United States during the Canadian rebellions—a function not only of prior war, but of their fear of others commandeering their land.

An eccentric but accessible tour of a country’s fascinating past. 

Pub Date: April 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8310-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 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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