Heavily illustrated with maps and period photographs: the best single-volume treatment of the conflict in recent years.



A well-conceived and lucidly written survey of the 20th century’s first great bloodletting, with close attention to little-known episodes in and preceding the conflict.

The First World War was preeminently a conflict between England and Germany over control of the sea, and consequently of European trade—a clash of Weltpolitik and Empire, as it were. Germany, writes Strachan (History/Oxford Univ.; World War I, 1999), challenged the “status quo in three ways: colonial, naval, and economic”; but that challenge does not translate to responsibility for the outbreak of the war, which in any event involved many other nations, many rivalries and grudges, and many little martial sparks that added up to one big conflagration. (For a time, Strachan observes, Austro-Hungarians hoped that the fire could be contained in a decisive Third Balkan War, meant to settle Serbia’s hash once and for all.) Strachan notes that although the war was global, with theaters in Asia and Africa, our conception and images of it center on Europe—and even then only on the bloody trenches that cut across the continent. He also remarks that the standard histories forget the “war’s other participants,” apart from the soldiers: namely, “diplomats and sailors, politicians and laborers, women and children.” Even in places where the war hit hardest—oddly, England suffered more losses in the First than the Second World War—it’s in danger of being lost to memory, and Strachan’s overview brings into sharp focus the proximate causes and critical moments of the conflict, from the well-known (Jutland, the Somme) to the comparatively little studied (the abortive English invasion of German-held Cameroon, the savage campaigns in the Alps). The war ended with an astonishing toll: more than 800,000 German soldiers in the spring of 1918 alone, followed by the deaths of many more due not to Allied bullets but to the arrival of the Spanish flu that summer.

Heavily illustrated with maps and period photographs: the best single-volume treatment of the conflict in recent years.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-670-03295-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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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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