A fascinating study of an intriguing case. (15 pages of photos)




The true significance of the “Almanac Trial” is revealed by historical detective and novelist Walsh (Midnight Dreary, 1998, etc.) in this engrossing account of how history is made and lost.

In November 1857, less than a year before the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the lawyer and would-be senator from Springfield, Illinois, received a request he felt he had to honor. It was the dying wish of an old friend, James Armstrong, that Lincoln represent his son, who was on trial for murder. Lincoln was not, in fact, an especially good criminal defense attorney: Walsh documents that, prior to the Armstrong case, when faced with a client’s certain guilt, Honest Abe would either pull out of the defense or end up doing such a half-hearted job that the accused would get convicted anyway. One defense witness in the Armstrong case hinted broadly at the guilt of the defendant by stating that “he knew too much” to be of much use and, after the trial, told a juror that he had seen the defendant commit the crime. (This last delicious tidbit was uncovered by an amateur historian 50 years later, but it has been hitherto ignored.) No one knows if Lincoln thought his client was guilty, but if he did, it didn’t show. He gave his client a tough, artful defense, which included consulting an almanac to discredit a prosecution witness who claimed that he saw the murder clearly because the moon was high in the sky. (The almanac showed that the moon was lower on the horizon.) In considering what Lincoln might have known about the case, Walsh wonders, “which is more in order for what he did, censure or sympathy?” But his telling of the conflict between honesty and loyalty that Lincoln likely faced is clearly sympathetic. Perhaps it is simply the contemporary climate that leads Walsh to ask this question—as if the story he has told is not interesting enough.

A fascinating study of an intriguing case. (15 pages of photos)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-22922-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet