As much a world history primer for younger or less knowledgeable readers as it is for history buffs who want a concise story...


Watersheds of World History


Ten thousand years of world history gets crammed into this compact guidebook intended to inspire Internet research.

Some readers may balk at a world history book that covers everything from ancient Sumerian tablets and the agricultural innovations in the Fertile Crescent circa 8000 B.C. to the present-day Middle East conflict and President Barack Obama’s election in fewer than 200 pages. But armchair historian and former mortgage banker John L. Taylor (Bullheaded Black Remembers Alexander, 2006) hits on every major global event in between these milestones. He summarizes his objective in the book’s prologue: “The text is simply a clear summary of basic information available to everyone….[A]s a reader, you will bring our great human story to life by using Google or other search engines to verify facts, expand details and see the many wonderful images and maps available to you at the touch of your fingertips.” While it’s difficult to criticize a book that admits its dependence on outside sources, especially since none are referenced within, one might wonder why the information wasn’t presented in a Web-based medium in the first place. But as it stands, Taylor’s photoless, nearly dateless book is a thorough, objective introduction to the story of people around the globe, naturally beginning with the dawning of the written word. From there, he introduces the foundations of faith in ancient history, revealing how early religious and mythical beliefs (and those who opposed them) would haunt humanity for centuries to come, leading to history’s most recognizable turning points—the literal and cultural wars through the Dark Ages and the Crusades, through monarchies to scientific revolution, and finally through two world wars to many in the Middle East. As a standalone read, Taylor’s breakneck summaries coalesce into a surprisingly complete overview of global triumphs and failures, slowing only to emphasize key dramatic shifts in power and ways of thinking, such as when “the Greeks introduced a rational, rather than a mythological or theological understanding of the natural world.” The dizzying pace sometimes results in a flat, distant tone, but the prose is nothing if not reader friendly. And while certain moments beg for more historical or physical detail, that is, of course, the reader’s responsibility to resolve.

As much a world history primer for younger or less knowledgeable readers as it is for history buffs who want a concise story of the ties that bind civilizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1479126705

Page Count: 192

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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