A compact and cogent academic account of the Holocaust.

THE HOLOCAUST

HISTORY AND MEMORY

In less than 250 pages, a prolific scholar takes on the intractably difficult themes of the Holocaust.

Historiographer Black (History/Univ. of Exeter; Geopolitics and the Quest for Dominance, 2015, etc.) generally attempts to avoid emotion, “an abstraction that means smashing living babies’ skulls against walls,” in writing about ultimately incomprehensible genocide. Rather, writing in a scholarly tone, he recounts the genesis and the largely effective policy of Jewish extermination, which was the prime tenet of Nazi ideology. He touches on such matters as the Wannsee Conference and the effort to make Europe Judenfrei in a Final Solution. However, not all Jews died in the camps; millions were simply shot in the streets and fields of Europe, exterminated by the Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units, and others, many of whom kept extensive records even before such murder was industrialized. Black dismisses as implausible the claim of ignorance by the German population, who, at the time, had widespread information. The Allied forces, including the United States, did not consider the Final Solution a primary target of the war. In such a short book, the author covers a remarkable amount of well-documented material. Certainly, there must remain much that is unreported in his summary of events that led to the deaths of 6 million Jews, and there will be many readers to remember what is missing from his wide-ranging presentation. What is of particular note, along with the review of the anti-Semitic activities of Hitler’s allies and conquests, is the memorialization of the Holocaust around the world both after the war and today. Black is especially astute in his consideration of the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East as well as the facile tendency to label diverse events as Holocausts.

A compact and cogent academic account of the Holocaust.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-253-02204-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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