A more streamlined narrative would have been welcome. All the same, a solid contribution to the literature of World War II,...




Overlong history of Europe between 1914 and 1945, the age of totalitarian empires and what Gellately (History/Florida State Univ.) (Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, 2001, etc.) calls “the great catastrophe” whose origins lie in Leninism.

Solzhenitsyn would approve, and so would the authors of The Black Book of Communism, none of whom would find Gellately’s thesis extraordinary. However, since by the author’s account so many academics hasten to distinguish the “good” Lenin from the “bad” Lenin, the idea that the 20th-century bloodletting somehow begins with him may prove controversial. Gellately defends his position well, and indeed even loyal Leon Trotsky allowed that Lenin “was driven to distraction,” as Gellately puts it, “when other Bolsheviks did not grasp or agree that Communism could be realized only by paying a heavy price in human lives.” The dictatorship that Lenin and his ambitious acolyte Stalin forced upon Russia was open to Jewish revolutionaries, a point not lost on Hitler when he came to power; Gellately argues that Hitler’s war on the Soviet Union was “an extension of his war against the Jews,” summarized by Hitler’s conflation of “Jewish Bolshevism”; had Hitler kept his war confined to the Jews, Gellately observes in passing, many citizens of the Soviet regime would have proved sympathetic and even would have collaborated, but Hitler chose to make war on all things Soviet instead. Interestingly, Gellately notes toward the end of his book, Stalin’s postwar pogroms may have been a delayed reaction to Hitler’s charge; Stalin was no fan of Jewish Bolshevism either, but even so his “turn to anti-Semitism was out of character…and a complete contradiction of what Marxists had said about the Jewish question for almost a century.” Such things will prove revelations for many readers, but much of Gellately’s narrative repeats well-known facts about the various dictators’ rise and fall.

A more streamlined narrative would have been welcome. All the same, a solid contribution to the literature of World War II, totalitarianism and the bloody 20th century.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4005-6

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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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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