A sturdy but not entirely fresh study for readers interested in the fate of Western water and in the settlement of the West...




From adventure writer Ross (Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed, 2014, etc.), a new biography of a well-known figure in the history of Western exploration.

John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) was famous in his day as the first Anglo explorer to travel the length of the Colorado River, in two expeditions, and explore the Grand Canyon. His voyages down that wild watercourse are the stuff of legend, especially inasmuch as he managed to scale the rock walls of the canyon with only one arm, having lost the other at the Battle of Shiloh. Less well known is his later career as a scientist. He served as the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey and argued that the federal distribution of homestead land “might well work in Wisconsin or Illinois” but was inappropriate to the arid West, where a tract near water was more fittingly 80 acres and one without it 2,560 acres. Powell’s reports to Congress on the arid lands, containing a daring proposal to encourage self-governance organized by watersheds rather than the straight lines of surveyors, were fervently opposed and suppressed, for he revealed the limits the land placed on growth. The author finds this a useful parable for a time of climate change and lessening availability of water in the West, as Powell’s Colorado becomes the nation’s “most contested and controlled river, every single drop of it allocated to serve more than 36 million people in seven states.” Readers who know of Powell are likely to be sympathetic to Ross’ arguments, but much of the main thrust of his book can be found in Donald Worster’s A River Running West (2000) and Wallace Stegner’s somewhat dated but still iconic Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954). Still, Ross’ view through the lens of the unfolding crisis lends Powell and his arguments new relevance.

A sturdy but not entirely fresh study for readers interested in the fate of Western water and in the settlement of the West and a good place to start learning about a key figure.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42987-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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