A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era.




Former Washington Post reporter Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon, 2010) offers a fascinating sidelight on the perennial debate of man's origins.

In the decade before the publication of Darwin's On the Origins of Species, evolution was already a hotly debated topic. The naturalist Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin, was considered the foremost British anatomist of his day. A proponent of the theory of evolution, Owen believed that the Creation was not a one-time event as reported in the Bible, but a continuous process. However, he opposed the notion that man was kin to primates. He compared the skulls of primates and humans, on display at the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, hoping to establish “taxonomical lines…between humans and apes.” Reel weaves together the fierce contentions about the theory of evolution among leading Victorian scientists and the story of young African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. In 1852, Du Chaillu (an African claiming to be of French descent) was educated by American missionaries in Gabon. He subsequently traveled to America, where he obtained funding for an expedition to hunt African gorillas. When he returned to the U.S. with their preserved remains, the Civil War had begun and the financial support he expected was withdrawn. In 1861, after writing a book about his exploits, Owen invited him to London. There, his book was published and he became an overnight celebrity, for a time overshadowing Darwin in the popular imagination. Ultimately, Du Chaillu was accused of embellishing his account.

A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53422-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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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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