Popular history that will appeal to readers of the author’s How the States Got Their Shapes.




A fresh take on the outbursts of hysteria over witches, Catholics, women, communists, gays, Muslims, illegal aliens and others that have occurred throughout American history.

Stein (How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines, 2011, etc.) explores the common source for political panics: the irrational fear that one’s government is in danger. Beginning with the 1692 Salem witch trials, the author describes how Americans have acted out of fears of conspiracy and fears based on stereotypes in an effort to make the world comprehensible. The richly detailed episodes recounted here are often quite familiar, but Stein brings a new perspective to understanding how they came about, what they have in common and how the panics sometimes link to one another. In an early hallmark of political panic, Native Americans were deemed vile, and accusers engaged in heinous acts (ethnic cleansing) against them. Biblical justifications fostered hysteria over African-Americans, gays, women and Muslims. Secrecy, real or imagined, spurred fear of freemasons and the Chinese. The most enduring panic, over the danger of African-Americans, predates the American Revolution and soared after the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation reached a mass audience. There was never widespread panic over Jews, perhaps since they lacked a homeland and the equivalent of a pope. Most panics are fueled by unverified claims, an insistence on absolutes and the assertion that correlation is causation. Alarmists cannot be stereotyped: They include both the ignorant and the well-educated, and they are often opportunists—e.g., power broker Thurlow Weed, who benefited from the anti-Masonic movement, and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, whose anti-Red raids of the 1920s factored into his presidential ambitions.

Popular history that will appeal to readers of the author’s How the States Got Their Shapes.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-137-27902-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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