Of much interest to readers who, like the author, nurse a passion for books, and for books about books.




An uneven but entertaining exploration of the world of books.

Like his bestselling A Gentle Madness (1995), Basbanes’s new tome takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the Western world’s great libraries, bookstores, and museums, with side visits to a few illustrious collectors and scholars. Little ties these darting trips together save for the nostalgic sense that there is a parallel culture far superior to our own in which books reign supreme, a bibliophilic universe populated by the likes of Callimachus, Thomas Carlyle, and Jorge Luis Borges and free of intrusions from the unwashed, unlettered masses. Filing reports along the way, Basbanes travels widely but never deeply in that parallel world. He spends time, for instance, with the Italian scholar, popular writer, and fanatical collector Umberto Eco, poking around in Eco’s 30,000-volume library while never quite getting around to asking what drives him, or other bibliomaniacs, to devote extraordinary efforts to chasing down rare first editions and incunabula. Though superficial, Basbanes’s anecdotes will bring considerable pleasure to those who value books and learning; through them, we’re treated to behind-the-curtains views of little-visited places such as the monastic library at Mount Athos, Greece, where one brother “is creating a digital archive of eleven hundred manuscripts . . . quite a turnaround for a way of life that almost did not make it to the twenty-first century,” and allowed to leaf, at least by proxy, through books over which Founding Fathers, scholars, and saints once pored. Basbanes spends a little too much time on ground already well trod by others (in particular, Nicholson Baker, who has more effectively protested barbarisms committed by libraries [Double Fold, p. 155] in the interest of making space for new acquisitions), but even there his enthusiasm for books and their makers is overwhelming.

Of much interest to readers who, like the author, nurse a passion for books, and for books about books.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019695-5

Page Count: 656

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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?

No Comments Yet

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?