“History rumbles on like an insatiable omnivore, devouring everything before it,” writes Marozzi. It’s a good thumbnail...




A digressive, witty blend of travel writing and popular history.

When your subject is a classical author and his account of a war that ended some 2,500 years ago, it takes a good deal of enthusiasm and a keen sense of storytelling to keep a reader interested as you follow in his footsteps. Recounting his passionate pursuit of Herodotus and the modern vestiges of ancient Greco-Persian geography, journalist Marozzi (Tamerlane, 2007, etc.) does not shy away from bold statements or prurient details. He casts Herodotus as the world’s first historian, first foreign correspondent, first anthropologist, first travel writer and first investigative journalist, as well as the man who “invented the West.” Traveling along the great historian’s route, Marozzi encountered evidence of a good deal of fellatio, sodomy, sacred prostitution, necrophilia, bestiality and phallic worship—most of it, thankfully, at a historical distance. The sex is rarely very sexy, however, and Marozzi’s deft handling of history’s strange congruities and incongruities is far more interesting. In Turkey, he tracked Herodotus to his hometown in Halicarnassus (now Bodrum); he describes the excavation of the town’s Mausoleum (one of the seven wonders of the classical world) and the archaeological exploration of an ancient shipwreck that contained the world’s oldest book. In 2004, he made a harrowing entry into Baghdad and a visit to the ancient site of Babylon, now “Camp Babylon” and under military control. Moving on to Egypt, Marozzi evokes Cairo in a lush, epic catalogue that is characteristic of his sly engagement with the kind of historical reporting Herodotus invented. In Greece, Marozzi’s attention flitted from the wine of Samos to an enviable lunchtime sojourn at the table of one of the last century’s great travel writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

“History rumbles on like an insatiable omnivore, devouring everything before it,” writes Marozzi. It’s a good thumbnail description of the approach that gives his clever, occasionally oversexed travel narrative much of its charm.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-306-81621-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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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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