A highly opinionated yet accessible work of history and current affairs.




Returning to the Enlightenment ideals of Founding Fathers like James Madison to understand the stakes in the current illiberal political climate.

O’Leary—a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Democracy at University of California, Irvine, and former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and TIME—has been an observer of the political scene for three decades, and he cares deeply about the recent drift toward “reactionary” politics in the U.S. Noting that “for two centuries, [America] has been the modern Athens for those seeking a society that values democracy, equality, and freedom,” he is appalled by the Trump administration’s seeming determination to “reject that legacy, preferring instead the ancient authoritarian principles of privilege, hierarchy, inequality, and exclusion that divides societies into winners and losers based on ethnic identity, gender, social status, and economic power.” As other historians have documented, O’Leary points out the moment when classic conservative principles turned reactionary: the ugly 1964 compromise between Barry Goldwater and the white supremacist South, represented by segregationist George Wallace. To tell the unsettling story of the nation’s continued drift into Trumpism and its many attendant ills, O’Leary plunges back into the historical record, showing the strenuous adherence to individual autonomy that the Enlightenment authors espoused despite the illiberality of their own era. The author cogently breaks down the writings of Locke, Paine, and others, showing the terrible compromises the early founders had to make in securing constitutional ratification by the slave states. Moving into the recent past and present, O’Leary cleanly melds historical research with his own personal outrage. “Donald Trump stands as the embodiment of reactionary America,” he writes. “He is both a hard-right capitalist and a man who believes that his whiteness and his maleness give him the right to hold others who are neither in contempt.”

A highly opinionated yet accessible work of history and current affairs. (16 pages of color photos)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-434-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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?

No Comments Yet