Absorbing reading—necessary, even, for anyone posted to a place where our performance “will determine where a lot of people...




A tale of good guys and bad guys in the Wild West of Afghanistan—save that “good” and “bad” are strangely fluid notions.

Chayes, a onetime NPR correspondent, takes an anthropologist’s and historian’s view to explain how America got it so wrong following the post-9/11 invasion, and she is not shy of asking hard questions to make her point. For one, she asks, “Do we, as American citizens, wish to have the bulk of our foreign policy conducted by the Department of Defense?” United States military officers are doing just such work in Afghanistan, guided by supposed insiders who have axes to grind and enemies to dispatch—the very people, she adds, who convinced the Western press corps that U.S.-backed militias were fighting and winning desperate battles with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Sometimes they were; mostly they weren’t, though that didn’t keep dollars from flowing. Chayes served as a lecturer and informal advisor to American forces (“She’s like no journalist you’ve ever seen,” one soldier exclaims. “She’s a hawk!”), and in that capacity, she has urged them to do a better job of backing the right horses, such as an anti-Taliban friend of hers, a police commander killed by a suicide bomber for his troubles. But finding those horses is a challenge, for the convenient designations do not apply, and in all events, Chayes writes, the Taliban enemy were in essence a creation of Pakistan, meant to serve its narrow regional interests, “pressing into service ambitious petty commanders from the anti-Soviet period and uprooted, madrassa-inculcated youth from the refugee camps.” And indeed, some of the Taliban she meets surely seem preferable to some of their supposed opponents, including one corrupt governor who emerges from these pages as the worst of a very mixed lot.

Absorbing reading—necessary, even, for anyone posted to a place where our performance “will determine where a lot of people come down on the clash of civilizations.”

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-096-3

Page Count: 373

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?