A fantastic, timely story, beautifully told, of a civilization’s refusal to die.

SYRIA'S SECRET LIBRARY

READING AND REDEMPTION IN A TOWN UNDER SIEGE

A BBC reporter’s portrait of Darayya library in Syria, “a secret library filled with thousands of books rescued from the rubble of war.”

Telling an extraordinary story with consummate narrative skill, putting readers directly in the thick of the action, Thomson grabs our attention from the beginning and doesn’t let go. The author relied on Skype and WhatsApp for much of his reporting. Though the internet was often down, people recorded answers to his questions on their mobiles, ready to send when the connection was restored. Surrounded in 2012 by government forces, Darayya was subjected to bombing, chemical attacks, and siege for four long years, which makes the survival of a secret library even more remarkable. In 2013, amid the devastation of bombed-out buildings, a devoted group salvaged books from private libraries, council offices, and ruined buildings, at great personal risk. The new library’s overseer was Abdul Basit, followed closely by 14-year-old Amjad, the “self-declared Chief Librarian.” Other caretakers included students of civil engineering and chemistry and a rebel fighter. The revolution ended all university work, but the library found textbooks to help students continue. Their site was top secret, a basement in a side street with destroyed upper floors and no sign. Word of mouth was the only way to find it. When they did discover it, their joy reflected the deep need for normality in a war zone. The appearance of the “Syrian Banksy,” with his inspiring graffiti, produced hope for the present, and the library gave people hope for the future. Throughout the book, readers will be impressed and inspired by the resilience of these people. When the siege ended, the citizens of Darayya were evacuated, mostly to Idlib, another revolutionary center near the Turkish border, and allowed only a suitcase or two—no books. Thomson’s reporting is unquestionably thorough and compassionate.

A fantastic, timely story, beautifully told, of a civilization’s refusal to die.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5417-6762-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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