Perhaps Cocker’s fervent and entertaining prose should warn us about how readily we accept progress as an answer to war,...




A passionately written history of four episodes in European imperialism by environmentalist and journalist Cocker (Loneliness and Time, 1993).

Colonial explorations in Asia, America, and Africa made the Europeans conscious of their own prosperity and raised questions in their minds about the capacity of other races and civilizations to advance as far as they had. European judgments of their overseas subjects were conditioned by their own insecurities about stepping forward, of course: the conquistadores, for example, believed that their advanced technologies, weapons, and Christianity justified the extermination of the Aztecs, whose taste for human sacrifice haunted the Spaniards’ aspirations for religious glory and martial honor. After the genocidal Black War, and as the violent appropriation of hunting and gathering lands continued to obliterate the culture and the lives of the aboriginal Tasmanians, English colonists complacently wondered if the native inhabitants’ depression and listlessness were signs that God had appointed them to displace the natives. And even after they had ruthlessly corralled every Apache onto reservations, white Americans thought that the widespread alcoholism among the tribes was a symbol of racial decline. While Cocker attacks the idea of progress as a justification for conquest—arguing that even the present age is no exception to the patterns of the past 500 years—he insists that we must make progress toward a more fuller understanding of European crimes if we are to make native peoples’ history a part of our own. Whether they want their history to be a part of our story is a question that Cocker does not entertain. Nor does he hesitate to recommend as a cure the very concept that, by his own admission, led to the disease: progress. After all, the Europeans whom Cocker studies had no trouble adopting the idea of progress as a solution to the problems wrought by their bloody conquests.

Perhaps Cocker’s fervent and entertaining prose should warn us about how readily we accept progress as an answer to war, conquest, and genocide.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8021-1666-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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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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