A thoughtful survey, of interest to students of urban affairs and of world history alike.




In gentle rebuke to those who never saw the good side of a city, urbanist and commentator Kotkin (The New Geography, 2000, etc.) looks at the bright side, calling cities “humankind’s greatest creation.”

Cities concentrate not just people but also energy, talent, and wealth. Kotkin adds to these the element of sacredness: Ancient cities, he observes, were dominated by religious structures, suggesting “that the city was also a sacred place, connected directly to divine forces controlling the world.” Accidents of geography and history dictate how cities will rise, flourish and fall. Interestingly, Kotkin ventures that monoculture is one recipe for collapse. Carthage, he writes, was a mere commercial center, though it began with all the cultural values of its Phoenician ancestors; absent “any broader sense of mission or rationale for expansion other than profit,” it fell under the weight of unenlightened self-interest. Readers will remember that Rome had a hand in Carthage’s end, and Kotkin does a fine job of showing how the Romans instilled civic virtues and engineered their way to greatness in their own metropolis. Carthage’s example looms as Kotkin turns up other instances of cities done in by greed, such as Athens and Constantinople. Even Amsterdam of the Golden Age might have benefited, he suggests, from some of Elizabethan London’s drive toward the “democratization of culture” and, he adds, some of its moral fiber: Otherwise the Dutch might have fought a little harder to hold on to New York, soon to become a city of world importance. Artificial cities like the ones the Nazis planned usually don’t work, Kotkin notes, but more-or-less planned cities such as Pudong and Abuja are springing up everywhere, changing the face of the developing world. Kotkin closes his already useful, literate essay by pondering the future of the urban order, with the hope that the Islamic world, “having found Western values wanting, may find in its own glorious past . . . the means to salvage its troubled urban civilization.”

A thoughtful survey, of interest to students of urban affairs and of world history alike.

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-679-60336-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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