The ideal companion for an idle hour, like one spent in an airport bar.




A popular history of getting soused.

Language historian Forsyth (The Elements of Eloquence, 2014, etc.) assembles a brisk, witty, and roughly chronological précis on drinking cultures and practices around the world since the earliest fizzle of fermentation. Using humor to skim over the violence and sadness of alcohol abuse, the author specializes in snappy summaries and choice anecdotes about the weird and obsessive customs that people have created around the process of getting drunk, with more snark reserved for the teetotalers than the tipplers. Take the ancient Egyptians, who felt it their holy duty to imbibe and cavort to excess, one of many cultures that used alcohol as a means to spiritual elevation. While his coverage can be glib and occasionally unbalanced—he waxes on about Shakespeare's relationship to wine but distills millennia of Middle Eastern intoxication into the quip that, “For a Muslim, drinking is rarely simple”—Forsyth’s rollicking sketches belie the extensive research that informs them. He offers a solidly embedded history, zooming in on the spaces and objects that have enabled and embodied inebriation across the ages. As with his work in etymology, this book showcases Forsyth’s ability to make sense of the court records, wine songs, and snatches of poetry he finds in the textual slag heap. Not surprisingly, much of the story is bound up in religion and the law, and he leverages the anthropological distinction between “wet” and “dry" societies to explain, among other things, the close relationship between prohibitive legislation and widespread drunkenness. Forsyth's account is as ribald and casual as that of a teenage tour guide working for tips, but it’s full of good history and good humor. This smart and satisfying generalist history will make you wish the author would sum up every other subject while you bob along the waves of his irreverent, learned wit (preferably with a drink in hand).

The ideal companion for an idle hour, like one spent in an airport bar.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57537-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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