ABRAM

THE LIFE OF AN ISRAELI PATRIOT

Abram Silberstein led a remarkable life in the turbulent 1940s, but his biographer and friend uses this book as an excuse to glibly recap the history of WWII and the rise of Israel. Except for a moment when both were boys in Poland, the author only knew Silberstein after the war. While he and Abram lost their families in the Holocaust, Orenstein did not share Abram’s active life on the front lines of history as a teenage immigrant to Palestine, a volunteer in the British army, a daring commando fighting the Nazis in North Africa, a smuggler of concentration camp inmates into Palestine, or as the transportation specialist who broke the Arab siege of Jerusalem. And while this may sound nonetheless as though it would have to be the lively memoir of an extraordinary subject, Orenstein perversely sticks Abram in the background—in order to saturate the bulk of his pages with his own views of the major events and battles of the second half of this century. Orenstein, author of the Holocaust memoir I Shall Live (1987), is capable of writing simply and effectively, but most readers will undoubtedly prefer to look elsewhere for well-known highlights of the careers of Rommel, Mussolini, Hitler, and Churchill. Abram the die-hard Zionist is duly outraged at the “American Army’s Jewish officers— lack of interest in what he and other Palestinian Jews were fighting so hard to accomplish.” The book well describes the danger for Palestinian Jews of a German takeover of Egypt; also useful is Orenstein’s willingness to reassess the Zionist icon David Ben- Gurion. Abram opposed Ben-Gurion’s suicidal attack of Jordanian-held Latrun, which blockaded Jerusalem. After criticizing the future Israeli prime minister to his face, Abram helped to create the “Burma Road,” which saved Jerusalem from starvation. The brief tale of an interesting life couched in long stretches of irrelevancies.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8253-0503-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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