An unexpected, odd-angle approach to Lincoln that proves marvelously insightful.




Through the lens of a sensational 1856 Springfield, Ill., murder case, a historian focuses on Abraham Lincoln the lawyer and politician, four years before his election to the presidency.

Was blacksmith George Anderson slowly poisoned by his adulterous wife before her lover, Anderson’s own impatient nephew, finally finished him off with a bloody hammer? The local citizenry certainly thought so. After declining an offer to aid the beleaguered state’s attorney, Lincoln joined the defense and devised the crucial strategy that kept questions about possible adultery out of the trial, destroying the prosecution’s theory about motive and ultimately freeing the defendants. This lurid case was one of many in the prairie lawyer’s crowded practice, and Fenster (Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race, 2005, etc.) follows Lincoln and other colorful members of the Illinois Bar as they trail after the traveling Circuit Court. Simultaneously, the author charts a second, more fateful, track: the speech-making tour that resuscitated Lincoln’s political career. Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act—which nullified the Missouri Compromise and destroyed the Whig Party—and beginning with his stirring “Lost Speech” at the state’s Anti-Nebraska Bloomington Convention, Lincoln traveled throughout Illinois on behalf of John C. Fremont, candidate of the nascent Republican Party, attempting to thread the needle among outright abolitionists, pro-slavery Buchanan Democrats and the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party headed by former President Millard Fillmore. He couldn’t persuade the critical swing state to go for his candidate, but this tour turned him into the Party’s premier Western spokesman, put him first in line to challenge popular Senator Stephen A. Douglas and ultimately led to his nomination for president. Already a successful, mature attorney whose talent and insight tipped the balance in People v. Anderson and Anderson, Lincoln began in 1856 his transformation into a master politician whose deep understanding of our founding documents and whose genius at translating their meaning for his fellow countrymen would make an even greater difference for the nation.

An unexpected, odd-angle approach to Lincoln that proves marvelously insightful.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4039-7635-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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