A persuasive argument in favor of evidence-based history, even if it means surrendering some of our cherished fabrications.




A distinguished historian revisits the American legends he effectively debunked 10 years ago and discovers that they die hard.

Over two centuries after the nation’s founding, does the narrative change when we understand that Paul Revere didn’t really ride alone, that Sam Adams wasn’t a “one-man revolution,” that the Declaration didn’t spring full-blown from the mind of Thomas Jefferson, that Patrick Henry likely never said, “give me liberty or give me death,” or that Molly Pitcher never existed at all? Raphael (Senior Research Fellow/Humboldt State Univ.; Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right, 2013, etc.) takes on a number of myths and legends that have crept unquestioned into our textbooks and popular histories, and he explains their persistence and the damage done if they remain uncorrected. He also highlights some stories we have failed to tell. How is our understanding changed if we discover that the tale of the cruel winter and patient suffering at Valley Forge has an unacknowledged twin, two years later, at the Morristown encampment, where the weather was colder and the soldiers mutinied? What if we learn that the American struggle for independence, itself only a small part of a worldwide conflict, was also a war of conquest in the West and featured a brutal civil war in the South? By slapping tidy beginnings and endings on stories, we distort a deeper, more complex history. By fashioning them into stick figures, we turn the Founders into an assembly of demigods. Worst of all, Raphael argues, we understate the central theme of the American Revolution—popular sovereignty—and marginalize the contributions made by millions of common citizens. Overlooking this genuine heritage, he insists, takes the Revolution out of the hands of the people, without whom the entire enterprise would surely have failed.

A persuasive argument in favor of evidence-based history, even if it means surrendering some of our cherished fabrications.

Pub Date: July 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59558-949-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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