Colorful personalities and tricky maneuvers make for a lively drama.

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BRAZIL

THE FORTUNES OF WAR

Well-focused look at the authoritarian rule of charismatic Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954).

Unlike fellow British scholar Michael Reid in his recent broad overview (BrazilThe Troubled Rise of a Global Power, 2014), Lochery (Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies/Univ. Coll. London; Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45, 2011, etc.) keeps the spotlight on the buildup to World War II, when Brazil, then a resources-rich provincial backwater, was eyed as a valuable asset by both the Axis and the Allies. Assuming power in 1930 and then ruling as a dictator from 1937 to 1945, Vargas was determined to make Brazil a stronger, more modern power politically, economically and militarily. Argentina was already pro-Nazi, and Brazil’s trade with Germany was vigorous. The United States grew increasingly alarmed by the aggressive moves of Germany and Italy (Brazil also had a large Italian immigrant population), and President Franklin Roosevelt asserted in his inaugural speech of March 1933 what would become known as the Good Neighbor Policy: “I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.” Wooing neutral Brazil would prove a difficult task for Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Undersecretary Sumner Welles and philanthropist Nelson Rockefeller, charged with coordinating inter-American affairs. Vargas liked to give alarming speeches reminding the U.S. not to take Brazil for granted. Flanked by his “right eye” (daughter Alzira) and “left eye” (Foreign Minister Osvaldo Aranha), Vargas played the Americans skillfully to get what he needed, eventually even sending troops to fight with the Allies in Italy in 1944. “Brazil may still have been waiting for its future to arrive,” writes the author, “but by the time Vargas was entombed, his capital was at least living in the present.”

Colorful personalities and tricky maneuvers make for a lively drama.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-465-03998-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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