Will appeal especially to anyone interested in Mulholland and western water issues.




Award-winning documentary filmmaker Wilkman (Los Angeles: A Pictorial Celebration, 2008, etc.) offers a well-researched account of a little-remembered California tragedy.

On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, located in the San Francisquito Canyon, some 50 miles north of Los Angeles, cracked apart and collapsed, releasing more than 12 billion gallons of water. Nearly 500 people were killed. Wilkman tells the dramatic story in the context of the rapidly growing city, whose ceaseless need for water had until then been met by the legendary, self-trained civil engineer William Mulholland (1855-1935), who managed the city’s water system for 50 years. An iconic, sometimes arrogant figure, Mulholland had supervised the building of the Owens River Aqueduct (1913), which gave rise to modern LA. At 72, he created yet another expansion of the city’s water system with construction of the St. Francis Dam, which he deemed safe. Drawing on archives and interviews with survivors, Wilkman re-creates the disaster, its huge flow of “rocks, mud, debris, and mangled bodies,” and the stories of victims stripped naked by the flooding waters. One 13-year-old rode the flood for nine miles and wound up stranded in a tree. The author also details the ensuing search-and-recovery efforts as well as the many investigations into the disaster’s suspected causes, which ranged from landslides to deliberate dynamiting. His explanations of dam design and construction methods will seem like too much information to many general readers, but the narrative never drags for long. In the end, the dam’s failure was attributed to the poor quality of underlying rock. A coroner’s jury refused to indict Mulholland, who accepted blame for the disaster and retired, a broken man, later that year. The author notes how Mulholland was never really exonerated in public memory or by historians.

Will appeal especially to anyone interested in Mulholland and western water issues.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-915-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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