Plodding, statistics-clogged account of the construction of the Alcan Highway, hacked out of the Canadian/Alaskan wilderness by the US military and private contractors during the early, anxiety- filled days of WW II. Twichell is a former West Point history teacher whose father was an Army officer involved with the project. Begun immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Alcan Highway, Twichell explains, was intended to provide a relatively safe supply line to the then-Territory of Alaska. Four routes were proposed, each supported by local boosters eager to share in the promised economic bonanza. White and black regiments of the US Army Engineers, mostly ill-trained and ill-equipped, were dispatched to the area. Twichell does a fine job of capturing the tensions and rivalries that accompanied the use of these rigorously segregated troops. But when he turns to an almost mile-by-mile, bulldozer-by-bulldozer, mountain-by-mountain account of their progress, his narrative pace falters, only quickening when he incorporates anecdotes into his story—tales of the grizzled guides, the seat-of-their-pants bush pilots, or the black enlisted men who helped build the highway. Also of interest are Twichell's reports on the backbiting common among top brass; a brief discussion of the Senate investigating committee—headed by future President Truman—that blew the whistle on Army excesses; and a look at the delivery of Lend-Lease planes to Russia over the arctic route. Such bright spots, however, are infrequent as the author devotes page after page to catalogues of distances covered, the number of automotive breakdowns, troop allotments, and other ledger-sheet matters. WW II-era historians may benefit from the welter of facts and figures; most readers, though, will find Twichell's account as tedious as a Yukon winter. (Illustrations—not seen.)

Pub Date: July 17, 1992

ISBN: 0-312-07754-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

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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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