At times repetitive or obvious, but always literate and learned. (16 pp. illustrations, 9 maps, not seen)



Important analysis of a fierce first-century surprise attack by German tribesmen that ended Rome’s designs on territory east of the Rhine and profoundly altered subsequent history.

Wells (Archaeology/Univ. of Minnesota) argues convincingly that both archaeologists and historians must contribute to understandings of long-ago events. (Naturally, he believes the former are less subject to bias since histories are written by the victors.) The site of this little-known battle was not located until 1987. Since then the four-by-three-mile location has yielded a trove of relics; more than 4,000 Roman objects had been recovered by the end of 1999. The author’s account of the battle consumes only a single short chapter and is admittedly heavily inferential: the surviving written accounts are scanty (and Roman); the archaeological evidence is still being uncovered and assessed. Still, Wells is able not only to reconstruct a credible analysis of the German strategy—pinning the Romans into a tight area of unforgiving forest and marshy terrain in which they could not execute their customary combat tactics—but also to explore the thoughts and fears of the combatants on both sides as the massacre commenced. In about an hour it was all over but the dying and scavenging, the burying and celebrating, the torturing and sacrificing of prisoners. Three Roman legions, some 20,000 men, were destroyed; a very few survivors escaped to spread the news. The Roman leader, Varus, a trusted ally of Augustus, probably fell on his sword when he saw the imminent defeat. The German leader, Arminius, became a folk hero: though trained by the Romans and granted citizenship, he gave the treacherous intelligence that led the legions to the slaughter. Wells offers much background on Roman and Rhineland history, politics, anthropology, military strategy, and weaponry, supplying myriad grisly instances of the sanguinary horrors of war. Ultimately, Rome vastly underestimated the “barbarians” they faced.

At times repetitive or obvious, but always literate and learned. (16 pp. illustrations, 9 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-02028-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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