An engaging and well-researched look behind the scenes of an important historic era. Highly recommended.




A wide-ranging examination of America’s entry into World War II as the Franklin Roosevelt administration juggled the demands of an isolationist Congress and voices urging early intervention.

Historian Wortman (The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta, 2009, etc.) sets the stage with two writers observing Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the spark that ignited the European phase of the war. William Shirer, the CBS radio correspondent in Berlin, was already appalled by Nazi oppression; the other, Phillip Johnson, was among the strongest American advocates of fascism. These two represent the two faces of American reaction to the war: conviction that the U.S. would inevitably be drawn into the war and determination to avoid involvement. Wortman expands the scope of the narrative to give a good account of both viewpoints. Isolationists ran the gamut from Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who felt America should fight only in self-defense, to Charles Lindbergh, whose anti-Semitism was at least as important a factor as his belief that Germany was invincible. Meanwhile, Winston Churchill, newly elevated to prime minister, lobbied incessantly for American aid to beleaguered Britain. Germany, Japan, and Italy, convinced that America would eventually take a side, played diplomacy and espionage for all they were worth. Wortman puts all this in the context of the events in Europe and the Pacific that pressured Roosevelt to commit the country to action, including submarine attacks on Atlantic convoys and Japanese aggression in mainland Asia. Plenty of interesting characters, including Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins and Japanese spy Takeo Yoshikawa, add spice to the story. The author displays a nice sense of the dramatic scene and a solid ear for telling quotes, and ample documentation gives readers the opportunity to look further into the history. Even readers familiar with the broad history of the era are likely to find new insights and new details of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that preceded Pearl Harbor.

An engaging and well-researched look behind the scenes of an important historic era. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2511-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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