McCalman selects his subjects judiciously and writes with flair, creating a multifaceted portrait of one of the world’s...




The history of the Great Barrier Reef told through the stories of men and women who have loved or hated it, lived there, studied it, exploited it or tried to save it.

McCalman (History/Univ. of Sydney; Darwin’s Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution, 2009, etc.) loves the reef and fears for its future. His account begins with Capt. James Cook, whose ship Endeavor ran aground there in 1770 and who feared being trapped and destroyed in the labyrinth of coral reefs. Some three decades later, while exploring the reef, Royal Navy officer Matthew grasped its immensity and named it the “Great Barrier Reefs.” In the 1840s, the naturalist and geologist Joseph Jukes wrote glowingly of the area’s beauty and accurately of the culture of the indigenous people living there, contrary to fictitious accounts of cannibalistic savages. In one fascinating chapter, McCalman recounts the tale of a young Scottish woman who survived a shipwreck and was taken in by Aborigines. In the 1890s, the British scientist-artist-photographer William Saville-Kent studied the reef intensely for four years, producing a masterpiece that showed the world the wonders of its underwater world. In 1908, Australian E.J. Banfield’s The Confessions of a Beachcomber presented it as multiple island paradises, and the 20th-century attempts of America zoologist Alexander Agassiz to disprove Darwin’s theory of the origin of coral reefs made it the center of scientific interest. McCalman then focuses on two Cambridge scientists whose publications in the 1930s ignited the interest of tourists and inspired the actions of men and women determined to save the islands from exploitation. McCalman’s final chapter, sadly titled “Extinction,” introduces Charlie Veron, an authority on coral reefs, whose message is that forces already underway are destroying the Great Barrier Reef, a message that the author bravely, hopefully attempts to counter in the epilogue.

McCalman selects his subjects judiciously and writes with flair, creating a multifaceted portrait of one of the world’s great wonders.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-24819-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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