An illuminating look at racial strife and TV history.




Memoir, history, and biography meld in this account of the creation of a famed civil rights documentary.

Producer and cinematographer Else (Journalism/Univ. of California Graduate School of Journalism), a MacArthur Fellow whose honors include several Peabody awards and four Emmys, offers a revealing chronicle of the making of the 1987 PBS series Eyes on the Prize. The author became involved in the civil rights movement in 1963 when he was a 19-year-old college student and took up political activist Allard Lowenstein’s challenge to “draw fire and publicity in Mississippi” by registering black voters. John Kennedy and Medgar Evers had just been shot, and Else was filled with “missionary zeal.” In 1964, he left school to work in Mississippi full time, courting danger in an area where the Ku Klux Klan flourished. Twenty years later, responding to an article in a Corporation for Public Broadcasting newsletter, he “cold-called” Henry Hampton, involved in a project to produce a TV series about the civil rights struggle. Else characterizes Hampton, who had joined the NAACP as an undergraduate at Washington University and who stood with Martin Luther King Jr. on the Pettus bridge in Selma, as nothing less than a genius, a “visionary leader” who “insisted on a bold multicultural, multiethnic, collaborative production process” that involved men and women, blacks and whites: “For him, diversity in teams trumped the powerful statement that an all-black production would have made.” Hampton also privileged the voices of ordinary men and women who participated in the movement rather than focus on people and images that had, by 1985, become iconic. Hampton viewed the civil rights movement “as a patriotic story of America’s realization of its ideals” and wanted white Americans to react positively to it. In detailing the financial struggle involved and the arduous process of finding interviewees and eliciting their stories, Else reveals the complexities of any such production.

An illuminating look at racial strife and TV history.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98093-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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