A fascinating, nuanced social history.




In her debut, Davis (History/Georgia State Univ.) suggests that anti-Semitism and Prohibition were parallel expressions of political disquiet during the turn of the last century.

As the nation's fifth-largest industry, alcohol was an important source of public revenue. The author cites statistics showing the explosive growth of retail liquor dealers: 90,000 in 1865, 175,000 in 1880 and nearly 200,000 in 1900. The industry offered an important niche for Jews from Central Europe who had practiced the trade in the old country and provided them a pathway for admission into American society despite obstacles such as the tie-ins between brewers and saloons. Davis describes the social networks and community relationships established by this early wave of American Jews who became leaders in their broader communities, practiced Reform Judaism while maintaining their ethnic and religious roots, and favored assimilation. While they supported moderation in the use of alcohol, they did not support Prohibition. “The anti-alcohol movement,” writes the author, “absorbed and tapped into populist anxieties about the concentration of capital and exploitation of labor and consumers.” She describes this as scapegoating immigrants who were blamed for the “increasingly urban and commercial nature of the American economy,” and it spawned anti-Semitic rhetoric, which painted “Jews as an alien and malevolent force in the American economy” that turned the drunken lower classes into their political pawns. Davis touches on strains within the Jewish community as later waves of Eastern European Jews rejected the religious liberalism of their Jewish predecessors. With Prohibition, most Jews left the industry, but bootleggers like the Bronfman family became wealthy and were accepted into high society, and the mafia flourished—led by Al Capone, “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and others.

A fascinating, nuanced social history.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8147-2028-8

Page Count: 248

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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