A sweeping, encyclopedic history of the arrogance, ambition, and ideology that fueled the quest for empire.




A celebration of Spain’s prowess and reach.

Award-winning British historian Thomas (The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America, 2011, etc.) ends his trilogy on the Spanish Empire with a densely (and sometimes dizzyingly) populated, overwhelmingly detailed narrative focused on the “dedicated and cultivated” Philip II, who reigned from 1556 to 1598, during which Spain consolidated its holdings in Mexico, South America, and the Philippines. By 1600, Thomas writes admiringly, Spain “controlled the largest collection of territories the world had seen since the fall of the Roman empire.” The conquest was expedited by the “valour and imagination” of conquistadors as well as the determination of missionaries, especially Jesuits, “high-minded men of intelligence capable of sacrifice, endurance, and patience,” who founded an unprecedented number of schools, churches, hospitals, and convents. In contrast were some of Philip’s deputies: greedy and violent, they cruelly exploited indigenous peoples and African slaves. Among the problems these administrators faced were the spread of smallpox, typhus, measles, and influenza that decimated the native population and, therefore, the workforce; internecine struggles; piracy; the threat of slave rebellion; and emigrés who included vagrants, beggars, thieves, debtors, and fortune hunters hoping to loot the riches of the New World. Although most missionaries focused on education and condemned torture, some unleashed bloody punishment for idolatry. The colonial quest is no better exemplified than by Spain’s bold plan to invade and conquer China, seen as “a well-managed, vast, rich land with stone-walled cities” and an easily-subdued population that “would welcome the conquerors as liberators” from the ruling Ming emperors, a comment likely to resonate chillingly with readers. Although the plan never came to fruition, Thomas suggests, “had it happened, it would surely have brought less deprivation to China than occurred under the Manchu dynasty and…the terrible communist era.”

A sweeping, encyclopedic history of the arrogance, ambition, and ideology that fueled the quest for empire.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9811-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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