As Ransom acknowledges, counterfactual history is made up of “2 parts historical plausibility, 1 part common sense, 1 part...




An intriguing exercise in counterfactual history, operating under the assumption that the Confederate States of America did not, in fact, win the last election.

Imagine, Ransom (History and Economics/Univ. of California, Riverside) asks, that Robert E. Lee had not thrown George Pickett’s division into the line of battle at Gettysburg but had instead left the field. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would not have been broken, and—Stonewall Jackson not having died either—it would have been on hand to contain Union intrusions into the South, and even to lob shells into Washington, D.C. The resultant military stalemate would have led to a profound change in government: “On November 8, 1864, Americans went to the polls and elected Horatio Seymour to be the seventeenth president of the United States.” All but unknown to actual history, the New York governor would have gone on to negotiate peace with the CSA, which in turn would have forged a powerful alliance with Great Britain. The two partners would then have carved up most of the Spanish empire in the Americas, including Cuba, while the imperial ambitions of the US would have been confined to the Pacific. Had the Confederacy endured, Ransom suggests, so would have slavery, at least for another decade or so, when persistently declining cotton prices would have forced a retooling of plantation economy. But civil rights are another matter; the North would not have welcomed freed slaves, “even if the Confederate landlords had been willing to part with their servile labor force,” and blacks might well have existed as serfs without the rights of citizens. And had there been two nations occupying the space of the former U.S., then there would have been a different tenor to the coming conflicts in Europe, the South allied with England, the North with Germany.

As Ransom acknowledges, counterfactual history is made up of “2 parts historical plausibility, 1 part common sense, 1 part imagination.” A pleasing application of the recipe.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-05967-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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