Despite the pop-history trimmings, a solid résumé of everything anyone would want to know about this undeservedly neglected...



Competent biography of Washington’s talented young protégé, who commanded the artillery throughout the American Revolution and served as the nation’s first Secretary of War.

When hostilities broke out, Knox (1750–1806) was a Boston bookseller and enthusiastic member of the local militia, reports Puls (Samuel Adams: Father of the American Revolution, 2006). Most of his knowledge about artillery came from the books in his shop, but that didn’t stop him from offering his services to Washington, who arrived after the Battle of Bunker Hill to take charge of the siege of Boston. Knox entered the war during the winter of 1775-76, when he directed the transport of several dozen immensely heavy cannons from Fort Ticonderoga across 200 miles of frozen wilderness to Boston. Their punishing firepower persuaded the British to evacuate. Directing artillery and engineering forces throughout the war, Knox served as Washington’s essential can-do man. The general ordered a three-pronged attack across the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776, but only Knox’s prong successfully ferried 2,400 men and 18 field guns across the ice-clogged river to the Jersey shore. In the interim between independence and the first presidential election, he served the Continental Congress as Secretary of War. His proposal for a national military academy was greeted with admiration but did not bear fruit as West Point until 1802. As Washington’s Secretary of War, he worked hard to professionalize the nation’s minuscule Army. When Congress finally agreed to build warships in 1794, Knox educated himself on the subject and then made brilliant technical decisions that created a small but technically advanced U.S. Navy. Readers will encounter few surprises in this portrait of an uncontroversial figure, and some may be annoyed by the author’s attempts to enliven matters with fictionalized dialogue and confident pronouncements on his subject’s inner thoughts.

Despite the pop-history trimmings, a solid résumé of everything anyone would want to know about this undeservedly neglected not-quite founding father.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4039-8427-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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...


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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