In a series of 69 brief “vignettes,” which portray events in the life and milieu of a fictitious individual from Philadelphia, prolific historian Lukacs (The Hitler of History, 1997, etc.) seeks to portray the decline of the once-regnant Anglo-American civilization and “the ideal of the gentleman.” The author’s intended effect is to evoke interest in real historical problems and issues. The actual effect, however, is rather wearisome—especially since the author insists on giving the reader, at the conclusion of each vignette, an imaginary dialogue between himself and a friend discussing the historic importance of the sketch just concluded. The story Lukacs tells, covering the years from 1901 through 1969, is a familiar one: He sketches the gradual absorption of the influential Anglo-Saxon minority into an increasingly polyglot, multicultural, and turbulent America; the gradual decline of self-confidence of the old Anglo-American culture; and its replacement with a society more egalitarian but more materialist and relativist, and less deferential and ordered. Lukacs explains that this hybrid work has no plot, but rather is a “thread” within the larger “ribbon” of American culture: a “ribbon” he describes in an afterword as a skein of reactive events commencing with the conclusion of WW II and resulting in decadence and decline by the end of the 1960s. Lukacs appears to view the “American Century” as a long descent into barbarism, and he ends, cryptically, with the year 1969, by which time, he argues, “the great cities of America were shivering and deteriorating and when the urban and urbane bourgeois period of American history had come to its end.” He ends by arguing that the ideal of Anglo-American civilization “lived on in the gardens of America and in the minds of ever more scattered, but perhaps still numerous, men and women.” Lukacs has given us some exotic ruminations that are not quite history, not quite fiction, together with many debatable observations, amounting in all to an often tedious literary exercise.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-300-07188-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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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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