More a nicely assembled collection of anecdotes than a sustained narrative.




Andre Kertesz and Robert Capa blew up photographs. Edward Teller and Leo Szilard blew up atoms. They were Hungarian. They were Jews. It must have been something in the water.

Herself the child of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, Marton (A Death in Jerusalem, 1994) offers a competently written treatise that is light on theory but long on description. Is it anything more than an accident that Arthur Koestler, Michael Curtiz, John von Neumann and other of her case studies were born in Budapest? No, but there was definitely something astir culturally and intellectually at the end of the Habsburg era, and, as Marton notes, more than a dozen Nobel Prize–winners came from that place in that generation, and it is clear that the Hungarian capital was a Central European rejoinder to Athens and Florence. Then came the likes of Admiral Horthy and a homegrown fascist regime, even before the time of Hitler and Eichmann, and that gifted generation scattered, with a disproportionate number going to the U.S. (Koestler pointedly went to England, Marton notes, because he felt that the U.S. was too far removed from the humanist tradition.) Their arrival occasions purplish enthusiasm on Marton’s part, as here: “What did the young man late from Budapest’s noisy boulevards make of the soft pink avenues of Beverly Hills, or Santa Monica’s stretch of pale sand?” She is on to something more useful when she remarks that her nine subjects were double and perhaps even triple outsiders, since they were Jews in a “small, linguistically impenetrable, landlocked country”—and, moreover, nonobservant Jews whose families were generally assimilated, to say nothing of being geniuses in an ordinary world. Whatever the case, Hungary’s loss was surely the gain of several disciplines: photography, filmmaking, literature, journalism, economics and, of course, nuclear physics.

More a nicely assembled collection of anecdotes than a sustained narrative.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-6115-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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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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