A vastly rich historical tapestry that puts ongoing struggles in a new perspective.




Throughout history, Central Asia has been a nexus of burgeoning trade in goods, people, and ideas.

Drawing on prodigious sources, Frankopan (The First Crusade: The Call from the East, 2012, etc.), director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, creates a sweeping, fascinating chronicle of world history focused on trade—in silk, spices, furs, gold, silver, slaves, and religion—in a vast region from the Mediterranean’s eastern shores to the Himalayas. What is now the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan once served as the bridge between Europe and Asia, an area, the author writes, “on which the globe spun,” where thriving cities housed diverse populations speaking a “cauldron” of languages, where “the world’s great religions burst into life” and “great empires rose and fell.” Trade in silk is exemplary of the confluence of cultures: the shimmering fabric was “a cipher for exoticism and eroticism” but also suspicion and conflict. Some thought the diaphanous material was “disgraceful” and sought to outlaw it; others damned the high cost of such luxuries. Controversies arose over religions, as well. The Silk Roads “were crowded, as deities and cults, priests and local rulers jostled with each other,” with political implications: “a society protected and favored by the right god, or gods, thrived; those promising false idols....suffered.” Among the many colorful figures the author vividly portrays, Genghis Khan emerges as a strategic genius who became “the undisputed master of the Mongolian steppes by 1206.” Although the author acknowledges the Mongols’ brutality, he also argues that their investment in infrastructure benefited the region. Likewise, he sees an upside to the Black Plague, which was a “catalyst for [the] social and economic change” that led to Europe’s rise. Until the 16th century, though, Europe was “little more than a sideshow” compared with “titanic struggles” in Central Asia. Frankopan weaves together his many narrative strands with verve and impressive scholarship.

A vastly rich historical tapestry that puts ongoing struggles in a new perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94632-9

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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