Self-congratulatory oral history, garrulous nostalgia, and great fun for those who recall the days of Tin Pan Alley and...




Contrary to the popular notion, nostalgia is pretty much what it’s always been, judging by the latest offering from the Frommers (It Happened on Broadway, 1998, etc.).

The professors Frommer (Liberal Arts/Dartmouth) have gathered interviews with iconoclastic New Yorkers Jerry Della Femina, Robert Merrill, Jimmy Breslin, Monte Irvin, Elaine Kaufman, Saul Zabar, and 57 others. They recall life in Manhattan (generally called “New York” back then by citizens of the outlying boroughs) from the end of WWII to the mid-’70s. In the new century, it was already a time and place starting to fade from memory. The New York of wonder is evoked once more with, as in Proust, the reference to indigenous food (e.g., entrées at Le Pavillon or classic egg creams). And from Harlem to Wall Street, Washington Heights to Greenwich Village, there are old churches and delis gone by, the surviving Guggenheim and the lost Automats, Lincoln Center newly built and Lewisohn Stadium since gone. There are shopkeepers with pencil stubs behind their ears and practitioners of the rag trades, artists, sportswriters, and gossip columnists. The memoirists speak with the distinct flavor of Yiddish, or of Italian. And there’s a Hispanic rhythm and that of Lenox Avenue, too. Don’t look for neat organization or accurate picture captions or even a hint of scholarly intrusion from the editors. It’s all just an entertainment for the metropolitan Modern Maturity set. There’s the merest likeness to Joe Fanklin–esque kitsch, and if the reminiscences get too prolix (like those of geezers proud of achievements half a century old), just skip to the family album of photos. Study the ladies in gloves, the gents in fedoras, the haberdashers’ billboards, the movie marquees, the trolley cars, the street furniture.

Self-congratulatory oral history, garrulous nostalgia, and great fun for those who recall the days of Tin Pan Alley and three baseball teams in one small, favored place.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-425-18169-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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