A well-researched, well-documented, and highly readable account.




A history of the Hamitic hypothesis, from its origins in the story of Noah’s disgraced son Ham in the book of Genesis to its presence in the Rwandan genocide of recent decades.

Robinson (History/Univ. of Hartford; The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture, 2006) explains that the Hamitic hypothesis argues that fair-skinned descendants of Ham long ago invaded Africa, sometimes driving out the black-skinned tribes already there and sometimes ruling over them. While the Bible provided the impetus for the idea, the author shows how the theory evolved over time and how explorers and scientists sought to confirm it. He ranges far and wide in his analysis, recounting Henry Stanley’s sighting of a “white race” in East Africa and the supporting evidence of the linguistic studies of William Jones and the skull studies of Johann Blumenbach. Even architecture played a role, with the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that at first Europeans did not believe could have been built by Bantus. Robinson details the shifts in thinking about race over the centuries; the assumptions of Caucasian superiority that fostered colonization, produced literature such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine, influenced the ideas of Carl Jung, and led to the race laws of Nazi Germany; the scientific evidence and moral outrage that cast the Hamitic hypothesis into disrepute; and the persistence of the Hamitic idea in Africa that made it possible for Hutus and Tutsis to see themselves as racially different during the genocide of 1994. While no longer accepted by scientists, the theory still has adherents among fringe groups as a way of justifying their racist beliefs. To show that the idea lives on, Robinson cites the controversy stirred up by the discovery of a 9,500-year-old seemingly Caucasian skeleton, the Kennewick Man, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington in 1996, a finding that stirred up the race invasion theories of old.

A well-researched, well-documented, and highly readable account.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-997848-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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