Capsule character studies of Louis and Haussmann enrich an engrossing short history that reminds us of the urban planning...




A concise yet admirably thorough account of the reinvention of one of the world’s great cities.

Longtime Daily Telegraph arts writer Christiansen (Literature/Keble Coll., Oxford; I Know You Are Going to be Happy: The Story of a Sixties Family, 2013, etc.), who has won the Somerset Maugham Award, opens with the 1875 debut of architect Charles Garnier's opulent, ostentatious Opéra, the very emblem of Second Empire extravagance. But the real story begins decades earlier. Many readers think of Paris as a timeless museum of grace and beauty. In 1853, when French Emperor Louis Napoleon undertook a massive public works program under the direction of the brilliant but ruthless Baron Haussmann, much of Paris was, in fact, a fetid slum with a few sanctuaries of splendor. Inspired by the emperor’s admiration for London's municipal works, cost (both monetary and human) would be no object. The author details how this campaign of leveling and building transformed Paris from curved forms into straight lines and broad vistas, creating almost as much upheaval as improvement. He gives due credit to Haussmann's key collaborators, demonstrating how an ideology of efficiency ruled and how a banking boom underwrote it—along with immense government debt. While giving voice to Haussmann's most ardent critics, who were appalled by his aesthetic and deplored the banality of the new Paris' thirst for amusement, Christiansen shows how many of the more sensible measures were social investments that benefited everyone, especially sanitation, the greening of Paris, and the educational reforms of Jean Victor Duruy. The author also showcases the influence exerted by an era of free trade and burgeoning technologies. He develops a crisply written narrative that moves from Louis' ascent to the presidency through France's disastrous war with Prussia, the collapse of the Second Empire, and the bloodbath of a Parisian civil war.

Capsule character studies of Louis and Haussmann enrich an engrossing short history that reminds us of the urban planning and social engineering blunders we continue to make today.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7339-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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