Provocative, and sure to inspire learned discussion, if not controversy.




A searching intellectual history of modern Russia, “a culture without reason.”

Russia a land without reason? The idea was endorsed by none other than Isaiah Berlin, one of Russia’s great minds and a confidant of the author’s. Chamberlain (Lenin’s Private War, August 2007, etc.) persuasively argues that while other nations, beginning in the 19th century, developed rich philosophical traditions devoted to liberal education and the cultivation of personal freedom, the Russian intelligentsia “realized that their first priority in spreading enlightenment in Russia must be to oust the autocracy.” Speculative philosophy, aesthetics and other such things had their place in Russian scholarship, but they were valued less than politics, social structure and political change; because Russia was not connected to Western Catholicism, classical antiquity and the Renaissance had passed it by, leaving medieval Orthodoxy to fill the gap. Followers of sometime Orthodox, sometime Marxist philosophers such as Nikolai Lossky, Sergei Bulgakov and Nikolai Berdyaev might object that they were at once modern, political, conservative and devout, not so removed from Rousseau and Kant; cynics might even suggest that the whole Communist era was the product of too much philosophy, and not enough of it. Still, Chamberlain ably and lucidly follows her fruitful line of thought, working in notes on the individuality-mistrusting Dostoyevsky, who urged piety and obedience after one too many nights in the tsar’s jails; V. I. Lenin, who saw to it that a brand of totalitarianism flourished to make of Russia a “unique, non-Western, community”; and Alexandre Koyré, who posited that it was precisely because Cartesian rationalism had never taken root in Russia that such monstrous assaults on truth as Lysenkoism could have occurred. And as for today? Writes Chamberlain, the struggle between positive and negative liberty endures, existing “on the edge of a Western culture where we too no longer live in the centre.”

Provocative, and sure to inspire learned discussion, if not controversy.

Pub Date: July 9, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-58567-952-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Rookery/Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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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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