A sweeping but flawed history of a world defined by contradictions and conflict.




How 70 years of profound political, social, and cultural change resulted directly from World War II.

In an ambitious history, Lowe (Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, 2013, etc.) follows his study of the anarchy and devastation of postwar Europe with an overview of the effects of the war globally. Each of the chapters begins with the story of an individual who “was profoundly affected” by the events of the war. These case studies serve as a springboard for generalizations “about why our cities look the way they do today, why our communities are becoming so diverse, and why our technologies have developed in the way they have.” The author argues, diffusely, that attitudes about human rights, efforts to reform our economic system, frustrated policies to achieve world peace, and unresolved quarrels and civil conflicts all result from the war. Lowe divides the book into sections: the war’s generation of myths and legends, such as the hero, the martyr, and the victim; the striving for a Utopian future, “rational, enlightened and peaceful”; efforts toward international cooperation in economics, government, and law; the emergence of the U.S. and Soviet Union as polarizing superpowers; dreams of self-determination that gave rise to nationalist movements in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Israel, and Europe; and the “destructive legacies” that led to fragmentation and atomization, resulting in economic inequality and divisive identity politics. Lowe crafts interesting case histories of those he chooses as representative of these themes, but he finds himself tangled in contradictions throughout. The myth of communal rebirth, for example, “came into conflict with the myths of individual nations.” Campaigns for equal rights were undermined by “the conservative tendencies of normal human nature.” The author’s claim that the war “united almost everyone in a general understanding of what was right and what was wrong” is contradicted by his revelation of pervasive ideological struggles, including “the conflict between the urge to draw together as one, and the urge to fragment into different and ever smaller groups.”

A sweeping but flawed history of a world defined by contradictions and conflict.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-04395-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?