The narrative round-robin can be chaotic. Still, an attractive book for those with an interest in women’s history of the...

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LIBERTY

THE LIVES AND TIMES OF SIX WOMEN IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE

A fascinating, if disjointed, hagiography of six women often overlooked by the history books despite their behind-the-scenes involvement in the cultural affairs and politics of Revolutionary France.

Moore (Maharinis, 2005, etc.) paints an absorbing portrait of a half-dozen viragos. Each would benefit from an in-depth individual biography: sans-culotte radical Pauline Léon; courtesan turned “fatal beauty of the revolution” Théroigne de Méricourt; Thérésia de Fontenay, lover of one of the men who brought down Robespierre; Juliette Récamier, who survived the Revolution to run an influential early-19th-century salon; and Manon Roland, a republican who fell victim to the Reign of Terror. The best known is Germaine de Staël, whose salon served as a political bellwether in the turbulent days leading up to the revolution. Daughter of controversial finance minister Jacques Necker and wife of the Swedish ambassador to France, the well-placed de Staël enlisted the aid of Lafayette and other constitutionalists in 1792 to offer a shrewd plan for smuggling the king and queen out of France. In one of her many miscalculations, Marie-Antoinette “sent a frosty message back saying that there was no very pressing reason for the royal family to leave Paris.” Moore has a habit of offering gossipy, overly detailed digression, but she successfully contextualizes each of her subjects within a cultural framework—no small feat, given the exceedingly complex, rapidly changing social and sexual guidelines governing these women.

The narrative round-robin can be chaotic. Still, an attractive book for those with an interest in women’s history of the period.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-082526-X

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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