Comfortably erudite, Shrady covers the tower’s history without diminishing its gratifying improbability. (17 illustrations;...




A slim, top-drawer chronicle of Pisa’s wonderful, drunken campanile.

For more than 800 years, the Romanesque bell tower “has teetered on the brink of oblivion, but neither earthquakes, war, misguided architectural interventions, nor the relentless onslaught of contemporary tourism has ever managed to topple it,” writes Barcelona-based journalist Shrady (Sacred Roads, not reviewed) in this clear-eyed yet delightfully infatuated tribute to the tower. He sings its praises—the lustrous marble, the weightless open galleries: a column of columns—while at the same time sending a few of its myths to the trash bin. It lists, for instance, not because of devious laborers or incompetent craftsmen or God, but because it was built on the shifting ground of a bog; nor is it likely that Galileo ever threw anything more than a gaze from the top of the tower. Still, there are mysteries: Who was the architect, why did construction start and stop and start and stop again and again, and why, with its progressive degrees of inclination—slowly, implacably on the move until it was over five degrees out of plumb—has it not simply gone south? Helping to make sense of this unintentional folly, Shrady situates the campanile within the sublime landscape of the Campo dei Miracoli, with its cathedral, hospital, baptistery, and graveyard, and also within the greater context of Pisa’s rise and fall as a city-state and maritime power. We also meet the many individuals who had a hand in the centuries-long construction of the tower, and the commissions seeking to right the tower’s skew, including Mussolini’s near-disastrous tinkerings (Il Duce hated the tower, making it that much more lovable). And running through the story is the tower’s evolution from civic embarrassment to a source of pride: “this tilting, defiant campanile symbolizes all that is wondrous and strange in a world that is fast losing good measures of both.”

Comfortably erudite, Shrady covers the tower’s history without diminishing its gratifying improbability. (17 illustrations; the book itself will be printed in a slanted format)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-2926-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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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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