A lively, literate and pained visit to American places too little seen, deserving a place alongside Steinbeck’s Travels with...




Preservation magazine editor-at-large Conaway (The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley, 2002, etc.) goes on a walkabout, looking for the America that doesn’t make the headlines.

Over in, say, Rock Springs, Wyo., time was when a person could find a patch of dirt and grow a few things to eat. When Conaway arrived, he found a “nightmare of development,” courtesy of the oil-industry-friendly Bush administration, which did away with the usual precautions “in the frenzied abandonment of environmental and community standards,” yielding a raped-and-pillaged landscape that even the worst strip miner could only have dreamed of a generation earlier. Up on the Strip, that remote part of the country where the Grand Canyon divides a chunk of Arizona from the rest of the state, Mormon ranchers struggle to keep a few cattle alive in country so parched that “dust got into ears and nose and formed little mud deltas at the corners of our eyes.” In Orange, Va., the better-off among the landed gentry gather on their farms, places where pickup trucks are unknown, to go chasing after foxes—but mostly to eat oysters and clams and tournedos of beef and drink and drink. Each of Conaway’s forays into odd corners of the country is an anthropological exercise of a kind, introducing readers to people who inhabit places that could use a little preserving—as, he insists, does the entire public domain, a commonweal that is rapidly disappearing in a country that “denies itself nothing, including squandered resources requiring the abandonment of whole cultures and the destruction of the very ground upon which America was built.”

A lively, literate and pained visit to American places too little seen, deserving a place alongside Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59376-128-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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