Both an informative work for general readers and a page-turning seminar for would-be writers of narrative nonfiction.




A bracing natural history of coffee.

Barcelona-based journalist Koehler, who has published previously about tea (Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea, 2015) and contributed to such publications as Saveur, Food & Wine, and the Washington Post, returns with a work about tea’s stimulating cousin. This is no dull deed by a dull writer from a dusty archive—though the author certainly knows his way around an archive—but rather an informative, lively history informed by the author’s visits to key sites, especially in Ethiopia, which, as we learn, is the true home of the Arabica to which so many in the world are devoted. Koehler chronicles his journeys through hazy forests; visits with pickers, growers, brewers, and scientists; the fascinating history of the spread of coffee around the world; the story of the birth and growth of Starbucks and Peet’s; and the connections between failing coffee crops in Central America and the immigration crisis in the United States. Readers will come to understand the deleterious effects of climate change on coffee crops, especially the vulnerability of coffee to the diseases it faces—principally, coffee rust, a fungus. A consistently agile writer, Koehler knows when we’ve had enough of history—and the history of coffee goes way back—and are ready for some time in the woods, a few odd facts, or some sinuous science. We learn, for example, that coffee began as a food rather than drink, that the poet Rimbaud worked on a coffee plantation, and that it takes about 4,000 beans to produce a pound of coffee. Koehler also educates us on genetic mutations—the good, the bad, the ugly—that have affected and likely will affect the nature of our dark liquid companion.

Both an informative work for general readers and a page-turning seminar for would-be writers of narrative nonfiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-509-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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