A slow burn with an exciting finale.




The story of the first “smart” weapon.

On the first page of his debut book, Washington, D.C.–based journalist Holmes introduces his protagonist, Merle Tuve, who would become the leader of “Section T,” a scientific research-and-development group tasked with designing a new type of fuse for anti-aircraft shells. In the early days of World War II, naval gunners were practically defenseless against fighter planes and bombers. The author describes the antiquated, inefficient process of loading and aiming shells meant to bring down enemy planes before they could sink battleships and destroyers. “No wonder it took thousands of rounds to knock one ‘bird’ out of the sky,” he writes. “No wonder every ack-ack gunner dreamed of a shell that could automatically explore near a target.” Officials realized that the war would be won by air power and, thus, also by air defense. Tuve was responsible for developing a new kind of fuse for these shells, one that did not require nearly impossible feats of technical calculations performed in seconds against planes moving hundreds of miles per hour. The proximity fuse he created was a work of true genius, but like any great invention, it required immense amounts of perseverance and human ingenuity. Using radio waves to detect proximity, the fuse was able to make shells that were far more accurate than anything before. Holmes also focuses on the creation of the V-1 flying bomb, the Nazi “superweapon.” His harrowing description of London under incessant bombardment in the months after D-Day makes the success of the fuse all the more amazing. The author’s chronicle of the Battle of the Bulge and the decisive role of proximity fuses in that final confrontation is equally fascinating. Holmes is a meticulous historian, and while his story begins a bit sluggishly with the painstaking scientific and political efforts necessary to deploy the proximity fuse, he ends up showing how this technological marvel played an invaluable role in winning the war. A slow burn with an exciting finale. (16-page photo insert)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-46012-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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