A thoughtful, good-natured critique of the left by one of its longstanding supporters. Tomasky, a columnist for New York magazine, seems to delight in the unreality of contemporary American politics—in, for instance, the fact that the Pentagon insists that even though the Cold War is over, the nation needs to be able to wage two major wars simultaneously, or in the way in which politicians of both parties agree that the poor need self-discipline and the wealthy need a tax break. That there is no organized leftist response to such claims, he continues, is the fault of the left itself; under Newt Gingrich the right has coopted the left's historical language of ``community and aspiration,'' while the left has been absorbed by infighting and self-righteousness. ``The left loves the idea of self-examination,'' he writes provocatively, ``but abhors its practice, because any serious self-examination will show that the left is considered broadly and laughably irrelevant by many people.'' Tomasky goes on to argue that while the left has always been negligible in number, its proponents can make a difference in national politics. That will not happen, he maintains, unless the left changes its ``tendency to find what's wrong with others' ideas rather than what may be right with them, to impute bad motives to their proponents, or to take a line of text or one plank in a proposal as proof that the writer has moved to the right or that the proposal is reactionary.'' Spurning a place at the table in rational discussions of illegal immigration or affirmative action can only increase the left's irrelevance, he says; instead, progressive causes need to recapture the Enlightenment belief in ``democracy and reason not as dead ends but as unfinished works that can and must be improved.'' A book that may speak to a small audience, but that speaks eloquently and sanely all the same.

Pub Date: June 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82750-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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