Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher.

READ REVIEW

HEY, AMERICA, YOUR ROOTS ARE SHOWING

ADVENTURES IN DISCOVERING NEWS-MAKING CONNECTIONS, UNEXPECTED ANCESTORS, AND LONG-HIDDEN SECRETS, AND SOLVING HISTORICAL PUZZLES

History’s mysteries solved by a dogged genealogist.

Readers may recognize Smolenyak (Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family’s History, 2010, etc.) from her many TV and radio appearances discussing her instrumental role nailing down Barack Obama’s Irish roots, researching the First Lady’s family tree or establishing the Reverend Al Sharpton’s slave ancestors as the property of the notorious segregationist Strom Thurmond’s family. She’s generated a slew of other headline-grabbing articles that help fill in the crevices of American history: identifying the real Annie Moore, Ellis Island’s first immigrant, or recovering the life story of Philip Reed, the former slave responsible for the casting the bronze statue of Freedom atop the nation’s Capitol. Sometimes, the historical riddle lies in an artifact. What’s the story behind a Yiddish inscribed tombstone found leaning against a fire hydrant on the Lower East Side? What’s the provenance of a Bible rescued from a Civil War battlefield? In this breezy narrative, Smolenyak supplies the back story to these and other investigations, allowing us to look over the shoulder of a relentless genealogist as she works the puzzle pieces of her craft. More commonly, she’s busy finding the “primary next of kin” for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, putting medical examiners in touch with the families of unclaimed persons, helping the FBI revisit troubling cases of racially motivated homicide during the civil-rights era or assisting everyday folks with their adoption searches. Whether unearthing evidence from Internet databases, newspaper offices, court houses, libraries and cemeteries, consulting translators, historians or her vast network of fellow genealogists, pioneering the use of genealogical DNA testing, solving the mystery or occasionally hitting a brick wall, Smolenyak remains wholly committed, curious and cheery (exclamation marks abound), eager to share her methods and excitement.

Bottom-up history from a top-shelf researcher.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8065-3446-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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