A vivid picture of the crushing difficulties faced by every Arab government.




Absorbing history emphasizing Lebanon’s disastrous post–World War II years.

France and Britain created Lebanon after World War I for purely selfish reasons, explains veteran Middle East journalist Mackey (The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, 2002, etc.). She adds that no change in boundaries would have produced a country whose people shared national feeling and democratic institutions, because these were absent throughout the Middle East. At independence in 1946, an informal agreement divided the Lebanese parliament and bureaucracy among Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians and Sunni, Shia and Druze Muslims. This feeble government exerted little control over the leaders of these sects, who gained influence by granting favors, pulling strings and quashing ambitious opponents. In return they expected absolute loyalty and permanent high office; none paid attention to the public good. Ironically, this corrupt system led to a permissive, laissez-faire economy whose initial prosperity in the 1950s led observers to call Lebanon the Switzerland of the Middle East. This fantasy evaporated in 1958 when a Maronite boss, Camille Chamoun, violated the status quo by arranging his reelection as president. Although trivial compared with later catastrophes, the year-long civil war that ensued claimed several thousand lives before Chamoun resigned. Calm returned, but government weakness persisted, aggravated by the 1970s influx of Palestinians. Their guerrilla raids infuriated Israel, whose repeated retaliations ravaged the nation. A 1975 clash between Palestinian and Maronite militia escalated into another civil war, this one lasting 15 years. It was aggravated by Israeli incursions, the arrival of U.S. forces (which quickly left in 1983 after a suicide bomber killed 240 Marines), and a Syrian invasion followed by an occupation that ended only in 2005. The 1989 cease-fire left the government unreformed and the nation prostrate, bankrupt and even more divided along sectarian lines. Mackey interrupts this relentlessly depressing account with histories of other Arab nations, stressing parallels with Lebanon’s experience.

A vivid picture of the crushing difficulties faced by every Arab government.

Pub Date: March 24, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06218-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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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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