An illuminating study that shows how much has changed with our perception of the heart and how much has endured.




How the heart has been “transformed into such a whimsical icon.”

A senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, Yalom (How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance, 2012, etc.) combines an impressive depth and reach of knowledge with an engaging style that serves the popular topic well. In short chapters with plenty of illustrations, the author shows how the heart has been strongly associated with romantic love for more than two millennia and how there has also been a long association with religious devotion, with romantic love sometimes seen as a portal to spiritual love and sometimes at odds with it. She shows how the connection between the heart and the power of romantic love (or erotic desire) was made in words and verse two millennia before its visual depiction, and how the development of the iconic Valentine heart (which looks nothing like the human organ) turned into a universal symbol. It’s fascinating to read of the changing relationships—cultural, psychological, metaphorical—between the heart and the head, the heart and the hand (given in marriage), and the heart and the genitalia. “Heartbreak” has not only long been recognized for its physical manifestations—and very real pain—but linked with emotional disturbance, inflicted by the gods, “a divine madness invading their heart…a painful affliction, visited upon mortals by capricious gods.” Yalom shows how the visual representation of the heart extended from playing cards to heart-shaped maps of the world, to the Valentine’s Day phenomenon that began at least six centuries ago. More recently, of course, the heart has become both an emoji and a verb, as “I (Heart) New York” extended its context from romantic and spiritual to civic-minded identification.

An illuminating study that shows how much has changed with our perception of the heart and how much has endured.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09470-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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