Just might be the bottled lightning that was Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit.



Charming tale of a forgotten American celebrity: Beautiful Jim Key, the amazingly intelligent horse.

At the turn of the century, the four-footed superstar was touring the country, giving exhibitions of his astounding mental acuity and wooing the ladies with his Tennessee charm. State fairs, agricultural exhibitions, even the Broadway stage: Jim Key graced them all, giving demonstrations of his abilities to spell, do arithmetic, act, and fetch a silver dollar from the bottom of a clear glass bucket full of water. Countless reporters tried to debunk the horse’s extraordinary talents, but none succeeded. His owner, the self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, would even allow the horse to be interviewed when the Doc was out of the room; Jim always came up with answers. Doc Key was a character in his own right, a freed slave with a fascinating history, and ghostwriter/coauthor Rivas (in her first solo effort) brings her two protagonists vividly to life: the disappointingly spindly colt and the man with a will of iron, and patience to match, make a compelling pair. The story of Doc and Jim Key expands to encompass the political and social character of Tennessee, the Civil War—Doc spent much of it protecting the two sons of his master, who’d enlisted with the Rebels—race relations, the quality of American entertainment, and the fledgling humane-society movement (Doc Key consented to Jim’s touring schedule in part to bring awareness to the cause of kindness to animals, a tough sell in a time when not even kindness to humans was formalized through any government agency). Rivas conjures up convincing scenes of a world gone by, and, though the telling lags a bit in the middle, Doc and Jim are so likable, and tragedy so assured (all horses must die), that the reader sticks around.

Just might be the bottled lightning that was Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-056703-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?