An encyclopedic reference work to be consulted but likely not completely read by anyone other than fellow academics.




Wilson (History/Univ. of Hull; The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, 2009, etc.) delves into the makeup, structure, and lands of the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted “more than a millennium, well over twice as long as imperial Rome itself.”

Beginning with the coronation of Charlemagne in 800, the empire lasted until the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars brought about its dissolution. The author takes Voltaire to task with his comment that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, and he meticulously explains how it was structured and ruled. The Holy Roman Empire was unlike any other, defined by countless autonomous kingdoms led by an emperor with a divine mission. The emperor combined secular and ecclesiastical roles, and he existed as a protector of the papacy—but not a master. The empire lacked the things that constituted a single political core, such as a stable heartland, a capital city, central political institutions, or even a single “nation.” The Reichstag, representing the imperial estates, not the general population, had a broader remit than other countries, enacting law codes, military regulations, and policy implementation. The author avoids chronological narration, arguing that the empire never had a linear development. He traces the power and influence of the imperial church system and the educated clergy as well as the lords’ power over clerical appointments. As princes gained power, structure switched to a status hierarchy, persistent and increasingly rigid. To explain the details of this nebulous empire ruled by autonomous princes, Wilson takes thoroughness to a painful threshold. Many aspects can only be pinpointed with semantics. The author’s scholarship is unassailable, and his writing ability is clean and readable, but the subject is just too convoluted and even tedious to readers without deep historical background knowledge of this enormous federation.

An encyclopedic reference work to be consulted but likely not completely read by anyone other than fellow academics.

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-674-05809-5

Page Count: 1008

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 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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