An engaging journey to the distant past.




A lively overview of a medium that was central to public and private life in the ancient world.

Ecologist Gaudet (Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World, 2014, etc.) expands on the research that informed his first book by investigating the history of paper from the end of the Stone Age to 1000 C.E. During that period, paper was made from papyrus that grew in swamps around the Nile, the only place that the reedy plant could flourish in quantity. For 4,000 years, therefore, Egypt had “uninterrupted and exclusive control” over the production of papyrus paper, the longest monopoly in world history. The medium “was the property of the king, since paper manufacture was at that time a royal prerogative.” It was vitally important both economically and culturally. In agriculture, which economists deem “the real basis for Egypt’s greatness,” tracking production depended on “lightweight paper to process and manage data sets.” Unlike tablets made of lead, copper, wax, or clay or writing surfaces made of tree bark or leather, papyrus paper “weighed almost nothing” and yet was extremely durable. Besides record-keeping, papyrus made its way into pyramids and coffins as funerary scrolls containing texts known as the Book of the Dead. These writings, Gaudet explains, were “designed in consultation with priests to ensure that the deceased came alive after death.” Organizing the book into three sections, the author first establishes paper as “a key element in global advancement” and dissemination of information. He notes that after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, Egyptmania raged across Europe and Britain, sending thousands of Victorian collectors to pillage tombs and temples in search of ancient artifacts. A middle section details how paper and ink are made and scrolls are assembled, and a last section looks at the environmental changes and technical innovations—such as vellum, Chinese paper, and rag paper—that relegated papyrus paper to what it is now: a souvenir for tourists.

An engaging journey to the distant past.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-853-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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