Serious history buffs may roll their eyes, but if they concentrate on the lives of the main characters and less on the...




“World War I marked the death of the old world and the emergence of the modern era.” A century later, a prolific military historian revives one of that cataclysm’s most iconic personal stories.

In 1921, one decorated World War I veteran chose the “Unknown Soldier,” and eight others solemnly bore his casket to its tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. Realizing that their remarkable stories would make a compelling background for a history of this monument, O’Donnell (Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, 2016, etc.), in his first book about WWI, strikes gold with vivid accounts of nine often horrendous battlefield experiences. The American Army fought under Gen. John J. Pershing, whom the author admires but also takes to task for some of his flawed convictions that led to immense casualties. Seven of O’Donnell’s soldiers fought bravely, won medals, and often suffered grievous wounds in the iconic battles in Belleau Wood, Saint-Mihiel, and the final, brutal, perhaps unnecessary Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Of the two sailors, one sustained nearly fatal burns but saved his torpedoed ship; the other spent weeks as a prisoner aboard a U-boat and more than a year in a prison camp. The author is good at turning up “untold stories” from America’s wars—five of his previous books include those words in the subtitle—and he accompanies lively, well-researched accounts of these admirable, sometimes-heroic men with histories of our unknown soldiers (there are now three) and a fervent, American-oriented version of the final year of the war (arriving in the nick of time, Pershing’s forces saved the day) that even American scholars no longer hold.

Serious history buffs may roll their eyes, but if they concentrate on the lives of the main characters and less on the patriotic frills, they will not regret the reading experience.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2833-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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