An indispensable book for anyone interested in naval history and a great read for everyone else.




In his American debut, British naval historian Ballantyne (Bismarck: 24 Hours to Doom, 2016, etc.) tells the story of undersea warfare entertainingly, without skimping on technical details.

The first hint of a vessel that could travel below the surface was in a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. During the European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, many tried to build a submarine, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that a practical sub took to the waters: the Confederate submersible Hunley, which sunk a Union sloop in 1864. From that point, a number of designs were developed, and the modern submarine began to take shape, though many naval officers believed the future lay with the battleship. It was in Germany that the submarine became what it is today. The author chronicles the exploits of German U-boats in World War I and the measures taken to limit their depredations on enemy naval and merchant vessels. By the end of the war, every major combatant was deploying a submarine fleet, though not all were equally adept. The sub resumed its role in World War II, with both Germany and the U.S. making particularly effective use of the “wolf pack” strategy of ganging up on convoys. Ballantyne brings the story up to the present with a look at the role of missile-launching nuclear submarines in the Cold War and after. In the final pages, he speculates on whether a new balance can emerge between Russia and the West and whether other states will use subs to upset the uneasy balance. Much of the appeal of the book lies in the stories of submariners and their feats, such as the Japanese aviator who took off from a sub and fire-bombed an Oregon forest. Years later, he returned to apologize—and was made a citizen of the town he endangered. The book is full of such entertaining and moving stories, especially of the British submariners.

An indispensable book for anyone interested in naval history and a great read for everyone else.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-877-8

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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