A colorful, entertaining journey with a voluble guide.




A trip to discover the “spirit and soma” of the formidable peaks.

Poet and award-winning writer Twigger (Red Nile: A Biography of the World’s Greatest River, 2014, etc.) takes on the mighty Himalayas in a sprawling, panoramic chronicle of history and adventure. Drawing on mountaineers’ memoirs, histories, and his own experiences, the author offers quirky facts, idiosyncratic observations, and vivid profiles of some of the most daring climbers. Twigger explains the biology of altitude sickness, caused by the body’s efforts “to re-establish the same levels of oxygen in each cell as would be experienced at sea level.” Besides nausea, headache, and dizziness, breathing at a high altitude causes a mental state similar to intoxication, attracting seekers of spiritual enlightenment. In thin air, he was told, they “have to listen to their breath. This reminds them that they are human after all. And they mistake this insight for something wonderful.” Twigger investigates the many religious groups prevalent in the mountains: “Hindus, Muslims, Bon worshippers, Lepchas, Mishmis and Christians.” But Buddhism is “the central Himalayan religion.” He also steeps himself in prevalent superstitions, including the power of curses and the elusive Yeti. “Imaginary creatures,” he reflects, “transform a banal journey into an exciting one.” From his recounting of mountaineering expeditions, it’s clear that there is nothing banal about climbing in the Himalayas. Twigger is at his liveliest following the treks and travails of climbers such as Col. Francis Younghusband, an intrepid Englishman who crossed the challenging Mustagh Pass in 1887; his compatriot Aleister Crowley (“corpulent heroin addict and alcoholic”), who, in 1904 made a climb using the newly invented crampons; George Curzon, a fascist sympathizer; and author Jon Krakauer, a client (i.e., paying) climber, whose record of an Everest expedition was made into a movie. Twigger peppers the book with digressions and philosophical musings—on the nature of reality, the power of gurus, mapping, and other topics. “To map is to be,” he writes. “The map-maker seeks to control the world through recreating it in an abstract form.”

A colorful, entertaining journey with a voluble guide.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-535-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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