In a strong field of competitors, this one carries few championship qualities.

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ATHENS

FROM ANCIENT IDEAL TO MODERN CITY

Of sophistry, slaughter, slavery, and, here and there, the smog that a visitor to Athens chews today while enjoying “the taste of ouzo with the sunlight filtering through a shady vine.”

Later this year, Athens will serve as the site for the Olympic Games, whose ancient origins lie in the western Peloponnesus and whose modern version was born in the city in the mid-19th century. Waterfield, a translator of ancient Greek literature, gives credit for the latter revival to the Athenian plutocrat and nationalist Evangelos Zappas, long overshadowed by Baron de Coubertin as the architect of the modern games. He then turns quickly to the city’s classical age, and there he mostly remains, giving a lucid account of the deeds of some of its more illustrious citizens, among which are, of course, the likes of Pericles, Socrates, and Alcibiades. The emphasis on personalities has good authority behind it, for, as Waterfield rightly notes, “an ancient Greek polis was its citizens; the name ‘Athens’ referred only to the physical city with its buildings and open spaces; as a political unit, the name was ‘the Athenians.’ ” Waterfield’s account of postclassical Athens is cursory, though, even with many equally illustrious (or at least picturesque) characters with which to populate his pages, and he devotes only three dozen pages to the city under the many centuries of Byzantine and Ottoman rule. He reasonably observes that the literary and historical attestations for ancient Athens are richer than those of its succeeding iterations, but this quick treatment leaves little room for a discussion of how the modern city—and modern Greece—came to be. In the end, Waterfield’s study is serviceable, but listless; one longs for what Jan Morris might have done with the same material. Even on the matter of the ancient polis alone, it is less impressive than Christian Meier’s Athens: A Portrait of the City in Its Golden Age (1998).

In a strong field of competitors, this one carries few championship qualities.

Pub Date: April 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-465-09063-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2004

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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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