A mixed bag, but, at its strongest moments, a modern rejoinder to I.F. Stone’s In a Time of Torment.



“The world is sick. It cannot be cured with America’s new war.” So writes Nation magazine commentator Schell (The Unconquerable World, 2003, etc.) in this selection of his post–9/11 columns.

Schell sounds several themes that were once lonely cries in a time of jingoist bluster: military escalation and action against the Muslim world is ill-advised; war is not the answer; the world has ample cause to mistrust and even hate the US; “the bombing should stop, and a new policy—perhaps one of armed humanitarian intervention on the ground—should be adopted”; the rise of terrorism provides yet more reason for nuclear disarmament, before someone gets hurt. Such views have become more current in the months since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but at the time Schell was in a distinct minority. Refreshingly, he allows some of his missed or arguable calls to stand in these pages: his view that the American bombing campaign would rally Afghans to the Taliban, for instance, and his apparent acceptance of the notion that Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il had stores of WMDs and were about to use them. But, more to the point, he records the errors of others, observing that the proffered reasons for going to war were wrong and misleading (writing in June 2003, he notes, for instance, “Hans Blix . . . never stated, as the Bush Administration did, that there were weapons of mass destruction but only that there was some evidence that there might be weapons of mass destruction”). Many of those others are fellow media pundits—Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Christopher Hitchens, et al.—and Schell’s critiques are often right on the money. Indeed, they make the best parts here, the sum of which is mostly useful as a record of who said what and as a work of media criticism, a chastisement of those who should have recognized a lie but instead served it.

A mixed bag, but, at its strongest moments, a modern rejoinder to I.F. Stone’s In a Time of Torment.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-56025-600-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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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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