Under the tutelage of a clever scholar, a cuneiform tablet brings to life an ancient world and the genesis of a great...

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THE ARK BEFORE NOAH

DECODING THE STORY OF THE FLOOD

The ubiquitous tale of the Great Flood was not new to the writers of Genesis. Finkel, the assistant keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and culture at the British Museum, offers some fresh particulars about the source of the biblical story.

It all goes back to Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq, and the local Sumerian and Akkadian languages recorded in the wedge-shaped cuneiform inscriptions in which the learned author is an expert. Surviving in clay tablets, the story of the calamitous inundation was recounted in epics—e.g., Gilgamesh—eons before Noah. It is likely, Finkel asserts, to have been known to Jewish writers during the Babylonian exile and used in the compilation of the Hebrew Bible. Only recently, the author deciphered a previously unread tablet that turned out to be instructions for building a vessel that would ride out the worldwide flood. His line-by-line exegesis, recounted in professional glee, reveals a huge circular craft—a “coracle,” or basketlike boat, that was still seen during that time in Mesopotamia. The ark, made up of reeds and sticks and waterproofed inside and out with pitch, would have covered about an acre. Finkel’s fresh findings offer much architectural detail about how such a lifesaving craft would be constructed. Self-described “wedge reader” Finkel is a scholarly and often witty guide to the antediluvian civilization and our shared lineage. Some readers may find the great detail so dear to the author’s heart a bit dry, but Finkel’s happy primer on historic Mesopotamia is, on the whole, wonderfully rewarding.

Under the tutelage of a clever scholar, a cuneiform tablet brings to life an ancient world and the genesis of a great biblical story.

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53711-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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