Great stuff for anyone who loves knowledge, deep or trivial. Some readers may even indulge in buying one of the more...




Lynch (English/Rutgers Univ.; The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English, from Shakespeare to South Park, 2010) shares his love of reference books.

Reference books are made for looking up a particular point; they facilitate consultation rather than reading from cover to cover. However, as the author intriguingly demonstrates, it’s still fun to grab a volume of the encyclopedia and wander through it. In this entertaining “love letter to the great dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases,” Lynch traces the history of reference works from the ancients to Google and Wikipedia. One of the best chapters describes how he organizes his own collection, from those at the ready, like Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, to foreign language and slang dictionaries and the Concise Encyclopedia of Heraldry. As readers make their ways through this book, they are certain to discover a wide variety of must-haves—e.g., Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places or Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. The creators of reference books seek the orderly systematization of knowledge, and their creations bring respectability to everything they touch. Pliny’s Naturalis historia, Ptolemy’s Geography, William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, and even what may be a map of the stars in the caves of Lascaux were just a few of the first reference books. The Enlightenment saw the first vernacular dictionaries. The 17th-century Le Dictionnaire de l’Academie francois prescribed a word’s usage, while Samuel Johnson described the word itself. If a dictionary explains what something is, an encyclopedia explains how it works. Enter Denis Diderot, whose Encyclopédie used entries from the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire, setting the stage for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and eventually Wikipedia.

Great stuff for anyone who loves knowledge, deep or trivial. Some readers may even indulge in buying one of the more esoteric titles the author highlights—e.g., The Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts or Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8027-7752-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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