A good book to curl up with while pondering the mysteries of Morpheus.




An eyes-wide-open look at the penumbral world of sleep, where we spend so much of our time without quite knowing why.

“We inhabit a culture that keeps people on the brink of falling asleep and yet inhibits them from doing it properly,” writes McGirr (Things You Get for Free, 2012, etc.), an Australian writer and former Jesuit priest who describes instances of tipping over that brink in the classroom, congregation, and nearly every other place where beleaguered people try to grab a few winks. Blame it on Thomas Edison, who worked 18 hours per day, enjoyed no social life to speak of, and led “a gang of assassins” who “murdered sleep” with his infernal electric lightbulb. However, as the author notes, we had been trying to extract light from darkness long before. In a lively though sometimes too centrifugal cultural history, he explores key moments, venturing the wise observation that “The Odyssey is a book about getting home to bed” and working in personal aperçus redolent of Proustian sentiment: “When I was a child, I often found myself unable to sleep.” If the overarching subject of the book is sleep, its villains are the agents of sleeplessness and irregular sleep: insomnia, nightmares, narcolepsy. On all of these points, McGirr has something interesting to say, and he observes that narcolepsy, though a shadowy ailment, still affects about as many people as Parkinson’s disease and, thus, is more common than we might suspect. Being a sometime Jesuit, the author fits theology into the discussion without much fanfare: “God is a creature of the night” who was content to create darkness first and only later thought to illuminate the scene. And speaking of God, Keith Richards has some catching up to do: though well-known for his three- and four-day bouts of going without sleep, the record-holder, in 1965, went a staggering 11 days without it.

A good book to curl up with while pondering the mysteries of Morpheus.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-419-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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