A nimble synthesis of the literary and the scientific that will charm even readers who didn’t know they were interested.




The voyages of Icelandic saga heroine Gudrid, said to have accompanied Leif Eirikson on his journey to Vinland.

In July 2005, Brown (A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, 2001, etc.) joined an archaeology crew from UCLA at a dig in Glaumbaer, Iceland, where legendary Gudrid might have lived later in life. It hasn’t actually been proven that the longhouse at “Farm of Merry Noise” actually belonged to Gudrid, but the author, who has hungrily sought archeological confirmation of the Icelandic legends for several decades, was thoroughly convinced. Here, she sets out to unravel her subject’s fascinating travels, recounted with slight differences in The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eirik the Red. In Brown’s retelling, Gudrid sailed for Greenland on her father’s prosperous ship, got knocked around at sea and was eventually welcomed into Eirik the Red’s settlement at Brattahlid, where he had lived since being banished from Iceland 15 years before for murdering his neighbors. With her husband, Thorfinn Karlsefni, Gudrid accompanied Eirik’s son Leif to the fabulous Vinland (Newfoundland), where she bore a son, Snorri. After three years, the ferocious native Skraelings ran off the Vikings; Gudrid settled with her family at Glaumbaer, then later made a Christian pilgrimage to Rome. Into this saga Brown inserts a wealth of cultural history gleaned from archaeological finds at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and elsewhere. She displays an impressive, detailed knowledge of shipbuilding, longhouse construction, language (words like ransack and brag come from Norse), cloth-making, farming practices and gender roles. All this rich material accumulates to create a marvelously sneaky history of the Viking mind.

A nimble synthesis of the literary and the scientific that will charm even readers who didn’t know they were interested.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-101440-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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