A fresh and insightful perspective on a major historical figure.



Scrupulous research informs a new biography of the charismatic and influential African-American abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) has been the subject of many fine biographies, as Fought (History/LeMoyne Coll.; A History of Mystic Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town, 2007, etc.) acknowledges, but none examines as intimately Douglass’ relationships with women: his mother, slave mistresses, wives, daughters, and especially the white women who supported his causes throughout his career. His life, argues the author persuasively, was shaped by women. The first was Sophia Auld, his slave master’s wife, who spent a year teaching the young Frederick Johnson to read, until her husband forbade it. Nevertheless, “the subversive power of literacy” changed the boy’s life. He fled from enslavement to marry Anna Murray, a free woman, who shared his aspirations to move into the middle class; when they married in New York, both took the surname Douglass, hoping it would distinguish them from the many Johnsons who were sought by slave-catchers. Anna was illiterate, and although Fought portrays her as a source of strength for her husband, she could not offer the intellectual companionship and worldliness of other women who gravitated to him. At anti-slavery meetings, abolitionist societies, and women’s rights organizations, many participants were drawn to Douglass, a man some called the African Prince, “conscious of his dignity and power, grand in his physical proportions, majestic in his wrath.” Fought focuses on the British abolitionist Julia Griffiths and the German reformer Ottilie Assing, with whom Douglass could discuss politics, literature, and religion. For a time, he brought both women to live in his household, where he and his guests would retire for hours to his study, generating “marital disagreement” and slanderous gossip. Because Griffiths and Assing were white, Douglass’ critics took an opportunity to attack his morality, a campaign that intensified after the widowed Douglass married a white woman. Fought highlights ferocious in-fighting among anti-slavery groups, the Douglass family’s close ties to John Brown, and Douglass’ evolving political views.

A fresh and insightful perspective on a major historical figure.

Pub Date: May 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-978237-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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