Readers will finish this third in a delightful series of bottom-up histories hoping Mortimer has his sights set on Georgian...




The latest guidebook to England’s past from the renowned historian.

Social historian Mortimer (Human Race: Ten Centuries of Change on Earth, 2015, etc.) is on to a good thing. His previous, similarly structured books, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (2009) and The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England (2013), charmed readers, and this latest will do the same. As usual, great men and events make only a fleeting appearance because the author is more concerned with everyday lives: in this case, the lives of Britons of all classes between 1660 and 1700. London aside, demographics were dismal. Britain’s population rose steadily from the 1400s until the present day, except during the Restoration, when it declined. Europe was passing through the Little Ice Age; crops often failed, and food prices rose. Britain endured its last famine in the 1690s. All historians stress that their era brought revolutionary changes, and Mortimer is no exception. England executed its last witch in 1685, and Isaac Newton’s Principia, the book marking the dawn of the scientific age, appeared in 1687. Innovations of the time included insurance, journalism, statistics, and modern (as opposed to merchant) banking. Personal checks also made their first appearance. Aware that historical dietary and hygienic habits retain a special fascination, Mortimer does not disappoint. The healthiest food remained meat. Privies were a low priority; a chronic complaint from great houses and even royal palaces was people “leaving their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coal houses, cellars.” In the century since the author’s Elizabethan Guide, London’s population had quadrupled to over 400,000, but there were still no sewers or running water. Garbage removal remained in the hands of private entrepreneurs, although a heavy rain worked better.

Readers will finish this third in a delightful series of bottom-up histories hoping Mortimer has his sights set on Georgian England.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-354-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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