A concise, balanced study of one of history’s most cataclysmic events.

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THE WESTERN FRONT

A history of the Western Front (northern France and Belgium) of WWI, invaded and occupied by the Kaiser’s German armies of 1914–18.

Holmes (History/Royal Military College of Sciences) has written a survey of a place that witnessed an astonishing loss of life and limb—more than 750,000 deaths—in four bloody years of continual fighting. Holmes notes that the evolution of mass armies came about after Prussia began military conscription and successfully fought several wars in Europe during the 19th century. Other nations followed and, concurrently, a greater production of increasingly more lethal weapons occurred. Holmes consulted the recorded memories of veterans, public records, and many books by historians to explain such dreadful battles as those at Verdun (where heroic French troops held), the Somme (where 150,000 British soldiers died while 300,000 were wounded), Ypres, Passchendaele, Cambrai, and the Argonne. While exhausted, worn survivors tended to think of the rear-echelon generals ordering these attacks as deadly buffoons with hearts of flint, others would describe the process as a parade of “lions led by donkeys.” The author, to be fair, admits that the generals were called upon to solve extremely complex military problems that demanding politicians and failed diplomats had left them to cope with. Facing a variety of terrifying new weapons (artillery barrages, improved machine guns, and poison gases), neither officer nor troops could rely upon established military procedures, and the reader becomes vividly aware of the inhuman, desperate conditions that the bravest soldiers had to face through Holmes’s re-creation of the hardships endured at the front lines.

A concise, balanced study of one of history’s most cataclysmic events.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-57500-147-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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