An engaging political history and affectionate homage.



An eminent British historian weaves a vivid tapestry of France’s past.

Capping a prolific writing and broadcasting career, Norwich (Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsession that Forged Modern Europe, 2016, etc.) deftly distills the history of France from the Gauls to de Gaulle. He gallops through the first 1,500 years of his story, peopled, he writes, with few “particularly colourful characters” though many devastating conflicts, particularly the Hundred Years’ War, protracted by the reign of a “hopelessly insane” king, Charles VI. The author dispatches in a mere three pages the intrepid advent and fiery end of Joan of Arc. Finally, arriving at 1515, Norwich finds a character “to make the heart beat faster”: the remarkable Francis I, who, Norwich exclaims, “hit France like a rocket.” He counts Francis I, a lover of books, the arts, and, not least, women, and Louis XIV, the Sun King, who reigned from 1643 to 1715, as France’s “two most dazzling rulers,” indelibly stamping the nation’s culture and identity. Before, after, and between them, however, were greedy, inept, ill-advised, and clumsy rulers whose escapades, travails, marriages—and many, many mistresses—Norwich chronicles with verve and wit. After Francis I, the nation roiled with religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots, which ended, after nearly half a century, in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes. It was not the end of France’s involvement in wars, however. There was the Thirty Years’ War, “the deadliest and most brutal upheaval the continent had ever seen,” beginning in 1618; the Seven Years’ War, lasting from 1756 to 1763; the Revolution and commune at the end of the 18th century; Napoleon’s extraordinary military campaigns; and two world wars. The author ascribes his love of France to childhood travels there with his mother, Lady Diana Cooper, and living in France when his father, Duff Cooper, was ambassador in the 1940s. This book, he writes, is “a sort of thank-offering to France.”

An engaging political history and affectionate homage.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2890-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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