A well-rendered narrative of paradise and imperialism.




Wall Street Journal contributing writer Siler (The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, 2007) rehearses the dark imperial history of how Americans first arrived in the islands, how they rose in power and how they deposed the queen and took everything.

The author’s story really has no heroes. Although she is deeply sympathetic with the last queen, Lili‘uokalani, the monarchs of Hawaii during the latter part of the 19th century did not exactly rule with Solomonic wisdom or Diogenic austerity. They coddled the white planters, amassed enormous debts and lived an egregiously wasteful lifestyle. Still, as Siler shows, the islands were theirs, and the white settlers took them away. The author begins with some quick geological and archaeological history and summarizes the misadventures of Captain Cook. Next, she leaps to 1893, the moment of crisis for the queen, then returns to 1820 and moves relentlessly forward to the late 1890s, when the United States annexed the islands, permanently ending the monarchy. (Oddly, as the author notes, a statue of the queen now stands facing the Hawaiian legislative building.) Born in 1838, Lili‘uokalani was not in direct line to the throne, but deaths and power politics eventually placed her there. As she relates the queen’s pathway to power, Siler also tells about famous visitors, Herman Melville (1843) and Mark Twain (1866) among them. But this is mostly the story of white entrepreneurs and missionaries who came and conquered. One man, Claus Spreckels, created a massive sugar empire, transforming the landscape, altering waterways, operating a fleet of steamships and benefitting from the cooperation of the royals. Eventually, white economic interests trumped all else, and the queen struggled and failed to retain authority.

A well-rendered narrative of paradise and imperialism.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2001-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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