A very worthy addition to the historical literature, complementing Hew Strachan’s The First World War (2004), Robert...



A searching study of the war to end all wars.

World War I was inevitable, given the complex rivalries that existed among England, France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the other players in the struggle. But, writes Neiberg (History/US Air Force Academy), it was not inevitable just because an unfortunate Austro-Hungarian nobleman was assassinated: “The archduke’s political views were unpopular in the Viennese court, and the royals of Europe had often snubbed Franz Ferdinand because he had married a woman of inferior social status.” It took months after the assassination for the Allied and Central Powers to decide that the time was right for bloodletting. Many another poor assumption and bad decision followed. The Germans discounted the British army, even though it was probably the best-trained and most effective in Europe at the time; the German army, further, settled on a policy of Schrecklichkeit, or “frightfulness,” in Belgium, “a policy that had been approved by leaders of both the army and the government” but that succeeded largely in uniting the Allied citizenry against the savage Hun; the Russians relied on cavalry against machine guns, the French on forts against heavy artillery, the British on incompetent leaders, and so on, all at terrible cost. The rate of butchery was established early on, as Neiberg shows: in the first few weeks of the war, the French army lost 200,000 men and a full tenth of its officer corps “in an attempt to recover Alsace and Lorraine, only to discover that the real threat lay elsewhere.” And things were no better on the fringes of the war, in places like Bulgaria and Cameroon, where the fighting looked only a little more modern than the wars of the 18th century. Even the peace was confused, with “Bolshevism, authoritarianism, the beginnings of fascism, and fragile democracies” in the place of the old empires and dynasties.

A very worthy addition to the historical literature, complementing Hew Strachan’s The First World War (2004), Robert Massie’s Castles of Steel (2003), and other recent studies of the war.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-674-01696-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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