Well-researched and –argued—a text that Civil War scholars and buffs will consume with glee.




The author of Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of Philip H. Sheridan (2012) and other works about the Civil War returns with a tactic-by-tactic, blow-by-blow account of the sanguinary actions between the forces of Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee near the end of the war.

Wheelan begins in March 1864 and ends in mid-June. In between are grim images, insights into the characters of Lee, Grant (24 cigars per day!), Abraham Lincoln and others, as well as some second-guessing and deeply informed reasoning about why the North ultimately prevailed. By 1864, the Union Army was considerably larger and better equipped than the Confederates, as Wheelan continually reminds us. However, Lee—whose abilities the author patently admires—was tactically superior to most of the commanders he faced and had kept victory within the South’s reach. But Grant was a different animal. As Wheelan shows us repeatedly, he simply sent waves of soldiers into battle. Although he sustained substantial losses, he also inflicted the same, and the South simply could not win a war of attrition. So the battles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor—though not really “victories” for the North—were nonetheless successful due to their devastating effects on Confederate troop strength and supplies. Wheelan also provides interesting side stories—e.g., the career of Gen. George Meade, the flamboyant brilliance of George Armstrong Custer and the untimely death of Jeb Stuart. Some of the horrors are hard to read—not just the mere numbers of casualties, but the details about rotting piles and parts of dead human beings. The author also distributes helpful maps throughout, but he does not comment on the justness or causes or necessity of the war.

Well-researched and –argued—a text that Civil War scholars and buffs will consume with glee.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-306-82206-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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