A vivid, concise recounting of a pivotal era in medieval history. (11 maps)



The first US edition of an essential account of the Albigensian wars and the medieval cultural conflicts they embodied.

The Cathars (nicknamed Albigensians after the town of Albi, a stronghold for the cult) were a sect that broke away from Catholicism, adopting a dualist theology in which the earth and all matter were believed to have been the creation of the Devil. Theological differences, however, were not the only cause for the rapid rise of the Cathars in the 12th century. British historian Sumption (Trial by Fire, not reviewed) evokes the intense local cultures that existed within the boundaries of present-day France: the southern region of Languedoc, for example, bore less cultural kinship with northern France than Germany did. By the 13th century, however, the courtly and elegant society that produced the great troubadour poets was crumbling, lacking a central authority or secure alliances among the various noble households. The Cathars found a receptive audience for their ascetic and anti-authoritarian doctrines among the peasants and artisans of the small towns in the region, thereby provoking a furious reaction from the Vatican. Sumption handles the drama of these events with real flair, vividly recounting the murders and machinations that followed the Church’s initial salvos, the escalation of the campaign to suppress the heretics into a full-scale crusade, and the remarkable career of the opportunist crusader Simon de Montfort. The Church-sponsored armies waged a successful initial campaign against the poorly equipped and impoverished Albigensians, but antagonisms among the southern nobility continued to smolder, culminating in a battle between Montfort and his archrival, Raymond VI of Foix. Sumption deftly integrates the underlying social conditions into his narrative and succeeds in making it clear that, without diminishing the extraordinary events or personalities involved, the real significance of the Crusade lay in the lasting impact it had on the lives of ordinary people.

A vivid, concise recounting of a pivotal era in medieval history. (11 maps)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-571-20002-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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