FLESH AND STONE

THE BODY AND THE CITY IN WESTERN CIVILIZATION

An expansive history of Western civilization's evolving conception of the human body and that concept's influence on the erection of cities. Sennett (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Conscience of the Eye, 1991, etc.) argues that the homogenization of contemporary culture is aided and abetted by the failure of modern architecture and urban planning to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of the human body. This is more than mere postmodern sterility to Sennett. He sees this failing as an extension of the ``enduring problem'' of Western civilization: the inability or refusal of those with the power to build cities to honor ``the dignity of the body and diversity of human bodies.'' From Pericles' Athens to Robert Moses's New York, Sennett incorporates discussions of sexuality, religion, politics, medicine, and economics into a historical grand tour of great cities whose buildings, streets, and public squares elevated the status of the ruling elite and diminished that of common citizens. Along the way, we find out how it felt to witness an execution by guillotine in revolutionary Paris, attend a Roman banquet, and observe a trial in ancient Greece, where courtrooms reflected the demands of a participatory democracy—three-foot-high walls and a jury box big enough for the minimum 201 jurors. Though Sennett ably surveys the ideological landscapes of the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds, these quotidian revelations are what enliven the book. By exposing the principles of individualism and personal comfort that form the most fundamental assumptions of 20th-century consumer culture, Sennett reminds modern readers that they trade a great deal for comfort—namely their engagement with one another. In so doing, he debunks the myth that the evolution of cities has been one of unfettered progress, or that progress is synonymous with improvement. Passionate, exhaustively researched, and original. (Photos and maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-03684-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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