A fine addition to the sparse library of engineering histories.




Eight great American engineering achievements will be the subject of a major PBS series in 2002. Traditionally, publishers commission a densely illustrated coffee-table book to accompany such a show: here, happily, is a superior example of the genre.

While apparently chosen at random, all eight are impressive achievements. The earliest—but still in progress—is the taming of the lower Mississippi. Beginning with levees now stretching a thousand miles, work continues with massive dams, spillways, floodways, and control structures to keep the river from changing course. Experts agree this is ultimately futile, but the economic consequences would be so awful if we stopped that the projects continue. Historian Tobin (Ernie Pyle's War, 1997) illustrates the preoccupation of engineers with water by including three additional achievements: Hoover Dam, the New York City bridges, and the New York City water system. Electrical engineering takes up three chapters: the first is largely devoted to Thomas Edison, the man who not only invented the first practical electric light, but built the first electrical generating system (in New York). It lost money. The second describes development of the immense, worldwide electrical grid we take for granted. Last, the author tells the story of the Internet, an extension of this electrical grid, this time connecting individuals. Great engineering feats can turn out badly. Some would place our urban freeway system in this category. The author makes a good case by devoting a chapter to the most expensive engineering project in US history: the “big dig” now building a freeway through downtown Boston—underground. When it's finished, the detested surface freeway directly overhead will be torn down. Meanwhile, Tobin provides generous historical background to each project and doesn't neglect to explain scientific and engineering problems in a way laymen can understand. Maps, diagrams, and rare photographs appear on almost every page.

A fine addition to the sparse library of engineering histories.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-1064-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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