First-rate look at the majesty and danger of building modern cities.




A comprehensive celebration of men who for more than a century have willingly accepted the risks it took to put the American skyscraper on the map.

Although freelance journalist Rasenberger points out that relatively short falls of 30 feet or less account for most ironworker fatalities, the vision of a sudden misstep and the long plunge to certain death haunts nearly every page, skulking between the lines to pounce on unwary readers and most potent of all in those old photos (some 21 are included here) of men munching a sandwich or reading the news while perched with legs oddly dangling on a steel beam separated from the sidewalk below by hundreds of feet of thin air. More chilling still are the statistics Rasenberger reports showing that neither timid novices nor cautious veterans are as likely to fall as an ironworker reaching the peak of his career: it’s complacency that kills the cat. The author nicely highlights projects that pushed the limits as his focus shifts eastward from Chicago in the 1870s; an account of the much-covered 1907 Quebec Bridge disaster hums with new suspense as he depicts men showing up for work despite visible deformations that indicated the structure was fatally flawed. Even better are Rasenberger’s intimate glimpses into the lives, ethnicities, and psychology (fierce independence declared with verbose bravado spiced by political incorrectness) of clannish roughnecks drawn to what is still one of the most dangerous of all professions. His sympathetic exploration of the celebrated Mohawk Indian workers, for instance, explicitly avoids mythmaking. Mohawks aren’t genetically superior any more than they are fearless, Rasenberger states; they simply take pride in working on tall buildings and are especially good at the essential skills required—skills now less in demand as cheaper reinforced concrete moves the steel I-beam off the job.

First-rate look at the majesty and danger of building modern cities.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-000434-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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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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