Too long by half and overdetailed, but nonetheless of much interest. Especially useful reading for arts administrators and...




A longish, sometimes ill-tempered history of London’s Royal Opera House in the tumultuous, belt-tightening postwar era.

When he was a young man, English music journalist and BBC radio commentator Lebrecht (The Maestro Myth, 1992, etc.) says, his older sister took in productions of the Royal Opera two or three times a month at a cost of two-and-sixpence, or about two pounds today. Those democratic days, when, thanks to the efforts of ROH chairman and famed economist John Maynard Keynes, access to the arts was taken to be something of a civil right and a governmental duty, are long gone; ticket prices today are astronomical, thanks to extravagant productions and, more, the bloated salaries of operatic stars such as Luciano Pavarotti (who, Lebrecht writes, really got his start at the ROH, and who comes in for quite a shellacking in these pages). In a narrative populated by the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, Joan Sutherland, Margot Fonteyn, Maria Callas, and Placido Domingo (who earns high praise for his courtliness and commitment, like Keynes, to bring art to the people), Lebrecht explores how the once-mighty Royal Opera and its sister Royal Ballet were brought to their knees by a cabal of Tory privatizers, self-serving chairmen, and arts bureaucrats—as well as by changing popular tastes—transformed from purveyors of life-enriching experiences to good-life accoutrements of mobile phone–toting yuppies who made the ROH “nouveau chic” in the darkest days of Thatcherism. In later years, the ROH garnered ticket sales through the unwilling patronage of Princess Diana, who, post-Charles, attended dance performances but not operas; ticket sales fell at roughly the same time that stars began to demand bigger and bigger salaries and incidentals, casting the ROH into a fiscal crisis. Lately, it’s been recovering thanks to aggressive direction by American entrepreneur Michael Kaiser, who, in the spirit of the early directors, believes “passionately in taking the arts to the widest possible public—not as a public right, but as a public responsibility.”

Too long by half and overdetailed, but nonetheless of much interest. Especially useful reading for arts administrators and fundraisers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55553-488-0

Page Count: 580

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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