Although the thrill here is in the discovery of South Pass, the weight of the story is in its political and economic...




Set amid a homey and observant history of early trading in the Pacific Northwest, McCartney (Friends in High Places, 1988) tells the story of the trek that opened the wagon route west.

In 1812, a young fur trader, Robert Stuart, working for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, set off eastward from Astoria, with six companions, to find a suitable route across the continent for traders. Working from letters and the journal Stuart kept (when the ink ran out, he used berry juice and his own blood), McCartney—a descendent of Stuart—tells of tribulations ranging from fleas, bloodsuckers, and rattlesnakes, to mental illness, horse theft, hunger, and despair. Yet McCartney tells the story with command, never getting breathless. He manages to bring the native populations into focus as distinct entities—Chinooks, Clatsops, Brules, Mandans, Absarokas, Wishrams, Wahkiacums, Echeloots, Tetons, Yankstons, and many more. He makes sense, too, out of the rivalries among Russians, British, French, Canadians, and Americans. He paints the landscape broadly, for Stuart had an interest in nature and culture as well as in trade and exploration. McCartney discusses Astor’s political gamesmanship as he secured Astoria and then tried to circumvent the embargo of the War of 1812. He details the even more arduous voyage of Wilson Price Hunt, who had followed the Lewis and Clark route four years later. And he relates the expedition’s truly golden discovery (it wasn’t beaver pelts) with cool understatement: South Pass, located by Stuart on a tip from the Shoshone, was an Old Crow trail through the Rockies and the only one traversable by wagon: “Though they were preoccupied at the time of the crossing with immediate life-and-death concerns—finding firewood, food and water and retaining their scalps—the returning Astorians clearly understood the significance of what they’d discovered.”

Although the thrill here is in the discovery of South Pass, the weight of the story is in its political and economic setting. McCartney handles both with aplomb. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-4924-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2003

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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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