A fascinating story of a unique book collector, worthy of attention by scholars and lay readers alike.




One man’s vast library provides a glimpse into the era of early modern Judaism.

In his debut book, Teplitsky (History/Stony Brook Univ.) explores the extraordinary personal library of Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736), one of the most important Jewish leaders of his day. Through his examination of this library, the author touches on a number of topics: Jewish learning and hierarchy of the times, the place of Jews in early modern Europe, and, more broadly, the importance of books and the passion behind collecting. Oppenheim, chief rabbi of Prague and scion to one of central Europe’s most influential Jewish families, began deliberately collecting books and other printed materials in Hebrew and Yiddish at an early age. By the height of his influence, the library he had amassed represented the largest collection of Judaica in existence, serving as a storehouse of intellectual, political, and religious power. Teplitsky makes clear that books in the late-17th and early-18th centuries were revered objects, “never free of their status as a store of value, nor were they empty of sentimental and even metaphysical power.” This respect for published works accorded Oppenheim additional status and power in his role. “Oppenheim’s library,” writes the author, “offered him a means to assert superiority over his rabbinic colleagues on account of his ability to marshal and manage an ever-growing body of documentation and knowledge.” Despite the respect he received, Oppenheim found himself embroiled in controversies with Catholic authorities over his role in helping publish Jewish works as well as the authority with which he acted in his own community, in a time and place where Jewish nationality was questioned and threatened with regularity. Finally, Teplitsky explores the meaning of the library as a symbol of Judaism itself, a collection that represents diaspora; in the end, it was purchased away from the Jewish community to be housed at the Bodleian Library of Oxford.

A fascinating story of a unique book collector, worthy of attention by scholars and lay readers alike.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-300-23490-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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