An engaging addition to Chinese history that offers many insights for general readers.




Historical account of two significant Jewish families who built wildly prosperous financial empires in Shanghai and Hong Kong that lasted for nearly two centuries.

From opium trading to banking to real estate, the Sassoon and Kadoorie families “helped open the world to China—and opened China to the world.” As Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Kaufman notes, they were “taipans,” alternately revered, feared, and loathed by the Chinese, who have largely “obscured” their stories since 1949. The author—who covered the Tiananmen Square massacre and also served as the China bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal from 2002 to 2005—digs deep to unearth their personal histories, creating an absorbing multigenerational saga. He begins with patriarch David Sassoon, who was descended from centuries of Baghdad Jewish royalty and was hounded out by the Ottoman rulers in 1830; he landed in Bombay at the height of the British Empire. Fully anglicized and prospering in the trade of cotton and opium, he sent his sons to function as ambassadors to various world outposts. Elias, one of his sons, outmaneuvered British rivals and cornered the market on opium distribution. Later, David’s grandson Victor Sassoon rose from “dilettante figurehead” to impresario, building the famous Cathay Hotel, which transformed the Shanghai skyline. He also helped forge the so-called “China Lobby,” which financially backed the nationalist regime under Chiang Kai-shek. Meanwhile, Elly Kadoorie, apprenticed in the Sassoon schools for businessmen in Bombay, enriched himself and his wife, Laura, and sons in finance, especially via investment in rubber. He also built opulent hotels and other luxury projects in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Both families’ fortunes were decimated with the Communist takeover, and while their wealth overshadowed the enormous poverty of the Chinese, Kaufman argues persuasively that their entrepreneurial drive built a lasting capitalist legacy in the country. While acknowledging the official Chinese version of history, the author does a service by examining “other truths” as well.

An engaging addition to Chinese history that offers many insights for general readers.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2441-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet