Strikes a neat balance between attentive commentary and dynamic storytelling.




The struggle for Latin American independence at the dawn of the 19th century recounted in all its gritty glory.

Documenting this ugly birth, Chasteen (Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America, 2005, etc.) leaves no stone unturned. Maps of key territories, a portrait gallery, a list of important figures, a chronology and a glossary are just a few of the appendages to his vivid account, making this a comprehensive yet concise overview of a major turning point in Latin American history. Scholars are likely to be familiar with most of the material; the strength of Chasteen’s graphic retelling lies in the colorful splashes of language he deploys to transport the reader back to this tumultuous time. Great stories abound. A decapitated horseman is dragged through battle, still strapped to the stirrup of his horse. Mexican revolutionary leader Miguel Hidalgo hands sweets to the firing squad about to execute him. Defenders of the Mexican village Cuaatla, besieged by the Spanish, eat “leather, iguanas, rats, and insects.” Chasteen utilizes the travel writings of Prussian adventurer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt to describe Latin America before the battles broke out. The main events, sparked by Napoleon’s occupation of Spain and Portugal in 1808, allow the author to write eloquently on the actions and personalities of figures such as the mercurial and enormously ambitious Simón Bolívar (president of no less than five countries), Argentinean military leader Manuel Belgrano and a host of major and minor figures whose actions have been carefully brought back to life in this compelling account. In the concluding chapter, Chasteen offers his thoughts on the slow evolution of Latin American society in the aftermath of independence.

Strikes a neat balance between attentive commentary and dynamic storytelling.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-19-517881-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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