Strong content buttressed by smooth prose, with almost every chapter a pleasure to read.




A collection of essays comparing WWI and WWII might seem aimed at military buffs, but in fact it’s a page-turner, always stimulating and skillfully written.

Historians have tended to emphasize the differences in the two conflicts: WWI was a “bad” war caused by a failure of diplomacy, managed by incompetents, characterized by the futile mass slaughter in the trenches; WWII was a “good” war against vicious tyrannies, directed by relatively competent leaders using advanced technology to move rapidly over the battlefield and minimize casualties. The 33 essays here, assembled by a trio of British academics, remind us that the conventional wisdom is highly debatable. Atrocities during WWI not only foreshadowed those of the war that followed, they were substantial in their own right; the generals of 1914–18 were not as stupid as portrayed and probably no worse than their successors; and WWII’s mechanized armies and aerial bombing produced more, not less, slaughter than the rightly discredited trench warfare of earlier years. Each essay covers a single aspect of both wars, and more than half discuss experiences at the front line; most were written by English scholars, although there are a few contributions from the US and Germany. There are discussions of the military leadership (comparing Churchill to Lloyd George and Eisenhower to Marshall Foch), the effects of occupation (the Poles suffered terribly under Nazi occupation but were equally oppressed by the imperial German army in WWI), and the rise of modern genocide (it began in Armenia in 1915, but was resumed during WWII in Rumania). Whether the topic is training, the merchant marine, the air force, desert warfare, captivity, or the medical service, the comparison of two wars is invariably thought-provoking.

Strong content buttressed by smooth prose, with almost every chapter a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-00-472454-2

Page Count: 768

Publisher: HarperCollins UK/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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