The role of books in the Florentine Renaissance.

In his latest, King revisits Florence, the setting for Bruneschelli’s Dome. In 1433, on a street that was “at the very center of Florence’s manuscript trade,” 11-year-old Vespasiano da Bisticci began a “long and astounding career as a maker of books and a merchant of knowledge.” Known to many as the “king of the world’s booksellers,” the bright and amiable Vespasiano was well positioned to become friends with some of the city’s most influential and book-loving citizens, including Pope Eugenius IV and Cosimo de’ Medici. Besides making magnificent, illustrated books for wealthy customers and assisting them in building their libraries, Vespasiano’s main claim to fame, argues King, was his own book, The Lives of 103 Illustrious Men, which Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt used as a primary reference for his influential The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860). Vespasiano wrote about important manuscript hunters who unearthed ancient texts that were vital to literary and historical scholarship. He became an expert on the manuscripts and authors and traveled to inspect private libraries and make purchases for his bookshop and wealthy clients, took commissions to help stock important libraries, and hired copyists to reproduce manuscripts. King discusses in lavish detail how scribes copied manuscripts and illustrators produced illuminated decorations. The development of new scripts allowed speedier copying; one Florentine copyist could produce 20 pages, front and back, in two days. “The 1460s,” writes the author, “witnessed a higher production of manuscripts in Europe than at any point in history.” Throughout, King deftly navigates Florence’s rich cultural and political history, painting intimate portraits of Vespasiano and others involved in the book world during these incredible times, including the man who would revolutionize it all, Johannes Gutenberg. Vespasiano’s fascinating and expansive story occasionally sags under the weight of the author’s desire to leave no detail unturned.

A treat for book lovers.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5852-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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