An illuminating perspective of the man, his mission and the era in which he lived.



“[Ernest] Shackleton today is a cult figure who has assumed a mythical, almost saintly status,” writes journalist Smith (Great Endeavour: Ireland's Antarctic Explorers, 2010, etc.) in this fascinating exploration of the man behind the myth.

Given high honors and knighted by the king, Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) could not find his feet on shore. The author describes him as a paradoxical figure, an inspirational leader who excelled at improvisation when he was on the ice but a restless and impatient person when he was back in England. Unable to “spot a charlatan in a business suit,” Shackleton failed at a series of business ventures and “spent a life in the futile pursuit of riches, [leaving] behind a trail of debts” after his death during a fourth polar venture. Smith ranks Shackleton among the greatest explorers, yet he was held back by a lack of practicality, exemplified by his underestimation of the need for prowess in handling dogs and skis for ease of travel on ice. The author presents a lively account of the race to the South Pole, ultimately won by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911, and the bitter rivalry between Shackleton and his other British contender, Robert Scott. Although they sailed together in 1908, their first polar venture, they were directly contending for financial support as well as high honors. On the first (joint) trip, they succeeded in setting up a base and exploring the terrain, and Shackleton's second venture to the polar region brought him within tantalizing proximity to the pole. Both trips were scientific milestones. A third trip to Antarctica narrowly averted disaster when their ship was destroyed. Launched at the start of World War I, the expedition's sponsors were hard-pressed to find funding for a relief expedition.

An illuminating perspective of the man, his mission and the era in which he lived.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78074-572-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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