A vivid, deeply informed travelogue.




A storied mountain range reflects its tumultuous history.

Journalist and novelist Carr (The Devils of Cordona, 2016, etc.) mines a prodigious number of memoirs, travelogues, histories, and literary works to create a richly textured examination of a liminal region: the mountainous border between Spain and France. The Pyrenees, he writes, “are a mirror of our world, with all its follies, tragedies, cruelties, and absurdities.” Unlike other mountain ranges, which are seen as physical barriers to invaders and obstacles for travelers, the Pyrenees have been depicted “as a savage and inhuman wilderness,” “the dividing line between Europe and an Africanized Iberia.” The stark, rugged area has long attracted artists, poets, and writers inspired by the striking wonder of the landscape, as well as naturalists who engaged in geological, botanical, archaeological, and zoological exploration. Throughout the 19th century, when strenuous tourism became popular, climbers and hikers combed the peaks in search of the dramatic and picturesque. In 1874, the French Alpine Club built a chain of refuges and shelters to house tourists, and in the early 20th century, the first guidebooks began to appear. Besides chronicling the advent of tourism, Carr offers a detailed history of the significance of the Pyrenees as a military barrier: In 218 B.C.E., for example, Hannibal took an army of nearly 60,000 troops, and 36 elephants, across the Pyrenees to avoid confronting the Roman army. The mountains served as a refuge and escape route as far back as the eighth century, when Spanish Christians fled to escape Moorish invaders; later, Jews fled from French persecution; and during the Spanish Civil War and both world wars, the mountains offered hiding places and strategic posts. Arts and crafts have flourished in various mountain towns; mining and metallurgy in others; and “health tourism” has made the Pyrenees a popular recreational landscape, as has the area’s mystical reputation. The market town of Lourdes, the author notes, is one among several sites for religious pilgrimages.

A vivid, deeply informed travelogue.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-427-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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