While Muir presents his reconstruction in too much detail to hold a general history reader’s attention, students and...



Detailed history of the 1812 battle at Salamanca, Spain, where Lord Wellington proved his tactical virtuosity by defeating French forces under the command of Marshal Marmont.

Historian Muir (Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807–1815, not reviewed) uncovers enough new material to justify academic reconsideration of Wellington’s near rout of the French army during the Napoleonic Peninsular War. He chooses a traditional structural approach, revealing a conflict between opposing commanders with contrasting personalities leading armies of roughly equal size and power. Muir quickly sets the stage of how Marmont, the impetuous and aggressive French commander, spent the days leading up to the decisive battle trying to maneuver cautious Wellington’s allied army into an exposed position. The elaborate reconstruction of the resulting day-long conflict is unprecedented among existing scholarship about the battle. In addition to conventionally relating the opposing armies’ battlefield dispositions and walking the reader through Wellington’s brilliant decision to attack Marmont’s weakened left flank, he also captures the day’s chaotic and desperate atmosphere with dozens of eyewitness accounts of carnage as the French retreat threatened to become full-fledged panic. Adding further authenticity to the narrative, Muir offers important insights about Wellington’s tactical decisions gleaned from walking the battlefield himself. The combination of rigorous research, obscure eyewitness accounts, and personal insight results in moments of keen appreciation for Wellington’s genius. More often, however, they overwhelm the reader with minute and often conflicting details that obfuscate rather than clarify important aspects of the battle.

While Muir presents his reconstruction in too much detail to hold a general history reader’s attention, students and enthusiasts of Napoleonic warfare will feast on the thoroughness of his research and the accuracy of his scholarship. (20 detailed battle maps)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-300-08719-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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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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