So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?




The rise of the once-popular singer and actor (b. 1927) who used his celebrity and suasion to aid liberal causes.

Few books have a more accurate title and subtitle than this one. Smith (American Studies/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960, 2004, etc.) focuses sharply on Belafonte’s background: his boyhood in Harlem, early departure from high school, stint in the segregated U.S. Navy, experiences with Jim Crow (which outraged him) and eventual decision to become an actor in New York. Smith periodically reminds us of Belafonte’s friendship with singer/actor/political activist Paul Robeson, who served as mentor for the young man and whom Belafonte continues to credit. The author also shows how Belafonte, discouraged that there were so few acting opportunities for black performers, moved toward music, a career for which he’d had no formal training or real experience. But he had talent. He had colleagues and mentors ranging from Charlie Parker to folksingers of the 1940s and ’50s: Lead Belly, Josh White, Pete Seeger and others. As Smith points out repeatedly, Belafonte also had an electrifying stage presence and a steamy sexuality that soon rocketed him into popularity. He devoted himself to human rights causes throughout his career, using his celebrity and evincing no fear that he would hurt himself financially. He became an intimate of Martin Luther King Jr. and used his unusual (for the time) access to TV and movies to promote his agenda. Smith gives us plenty of detail about his movies (the good, bad and ugly), his recordings, his relationships with women, and his battles with the ugly racial status quo in 1950s and ’60s America.

So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-292-72914-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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