A layered dance of characters and events on shifting ground, handled by letting the seismic disturbances settle where they...



Jazzy, cresendo-building portrait of the blackout that hit New York City in 1977, stitched together in a series of compressed bursts of imagery and critical readings and events.

“I begin my story in the last hour of light,” historian Goodman (Stories of Scottsboro, 1994) writes, showing folks going about their business on a hot July evening in a sorely tried New York City, wracked by fiscal crises, corruption, political incompetence, Son of Sam, and a rude patch of weather. Goodman proceeds into the night, through a collection of short, fragmented narratives and stunning word pictures culled from a variety of sources and impressively gelling into a panoptic view of the city, Bronx to Battery—and out there in Bensonhurst, too. It’s a fine piece of choreography, matching the color values of the scenes with musical tones of the chromatic scale. Characters and experiences emerge from the dark, take their place on the stage for a moment, then merge back into the night after performing acts of kindness, generosity, patience, and good humor—or mayhem and meanness. Looters explain their thefts, Mayor Beame postures, Con Ed dodges, Boz Scaggs has to cancel because he needs electricity for his guitar, and the Linden Woodwind Quintet also cancels because they need to read their sheet music, but Simon Hench plays on in Otherwise Engaged. The New York Times goes to bed, but the sheets are short; a thief feels his heart play the tango when he spies a police officer standing outside the window that the thief had just broken through. As day breaks, Goodman considers the city’s flammable social fabric, relates the insurance companies’ quibbles, profiles the looters, and gives a brilliant walkthrough of the crisis in the electrical lines. An afterword relates details of the 2003 blackout that affected New York and many other parts of eastern North America.

A layered dance of characters and events on shifting ground, handled by letting the seismic disturbances settle where they may for us to watch and wonder.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-86547-658-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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