Astute, challenging, and far-reaching: There’s much to chew on in Marcus’ disquisition on Gatsby’s legacy.




The legendary rock critic digs into one of American literature’s cornerstones.

This ambitious, extended essay on America as seen through the “gravitational pull” of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is about how The Great Gatsby “exists on its own terms—as a commercial product, meant to make money and elevate a reputation, and as a story, an exposé and an illumination of the moral life of its characters, the country they inhabit, and the legacy the country’s discoverers and founders left for them to reckon with or ignore.” Less than a month before the publication date, Fitzgerald wanted to change the title to “Under the Red White and Blue.” Marcus asks: “What is it that Americans share?” The author, a master of juxtaposition, draws provocative, unexpected connections among literature, music, and movies. He uses quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, Edmund Wilson, Lady Gaga, Barbara Jordan, and Bruce Springsteen to assess patriotism in America. He then discusses Moby-Dick, a novel “that, in America, defines the contours of a common imagination as much as anything America has ever produced.” Indeed, “in the American story, Ahab is always out there.” Marcus traces the Gatsby effect as it later weaved its way into the “American fabric” in books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Walter Mosley as well as, perhaps most significantly, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Instead of an ordinary plot summary, Marcus draws on Andy Kauffman’s quirky Gatsby reading on Saturday Night Live in 1978 and an extended discussion of Gatz, the six-hour public theatrical reading. After an insightful examination of the historical “ferment that fed the energies of the decade into Fitzgerald’s book,” Marcus goes to the movies. He dismisses the “enervating” Robert Redford version in favor of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 edition. The author is much taken with Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting and Tobey McGuire’s sensitive narration.

Astute, challenging, and far-reaching: There’s much to chew on in Marcus’ disquisition on Gatsby’s legacy.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-22890-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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