Hardly a page-turner, but a vivid account that will satisfy anyone with an interest in the Great War.




A monumental study of the maritime aspects of WWI, drawing on a great cast of characters and revisiting little-known battles and watery tombs.

Massie is an accomplished maker of knee-buckling tomes (Loosing the Bonds, 1997, etc.). Here, picking up where his Dreadnought (1991) left off, the author begins with the logical outcome of what happens when two contending powers—in this case, Germany and England—fit themselves with world-girding, phenomenally well-armed fleets: they take the fight out to sea. The First World War saw a military innovation in the widespread, even unrestricted use of submarines, and Massie breaks news by revealing that the Germans had a clear opportunity to sink the Lusitania’s sister ocean liner Mauretania but did not. U-boats had an advantage over Allied submarines in that British ports and harbors tended to be deep, whereas German harbors were too shallow to attack submerged; the Allies, one might conjecture from reading Massie’s pages, also didn’t really know how to make use of submarines as tactical weapons. They did, however, finally figure out how to deploy convoys and submarine-killing “Q-ships” late in the war, a development Lloyd George claimed as his own. (“ ‘The little popinjay,’ ” remarked First Lord Edward Carson on reading George’s claim, “has told ‘the biggest lie ever was told!’ ”) Massie devotes a full sixth of his study to the critically important Battle of Jutland, which yielded a pyrrhic victory for Britain at tremendous cost—the loss of three battle cruisers, two light cruisers, and many other craft. He refutes earlier historians’ claims that the result of the battle was to confine the German fleet to home waters, when in fact it came out in force three more times—once to shell the coast of Scotland. Massie’s account has plenty of heroes (Jellicoe, Scheer, even Winston Churchill), villains and dunderheads (Kaiser Wilhelm II, Lord Beatty) and clashing egos to match all those battles at sea, and well reveals his mastery of period detail.

Hardly a page-turner, but a vivid account that will satisfy anyone with an interest in the Great War.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-679-45671-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Random House

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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