A meandering and highly entertaining amble through fascinating bits of history that culminates in the horrors of the...




The final volume in London-based author and publisher Winder’s trilogy about the history of Europe, following Germania (2010) and Danubia (2014).

In this history of an ill-defined region of Europe—not quite Germany, not quite France, running along both sides of the Rhine, encompassing northern reaches of the Netherlands and including Flanders, Luxembourg, and Alsace-Lorraine all the way to Switzerland—the author brings the material rivetingly alive with the sheer elasticity of his imagination and prose. This region, “a mass of illogicality,” was first defined after Charlemagne’s death in 814 and named for one of his three grandsons, Lothair (thus, Lotharingia, created by 843), and it has “provoked wars in every century and…been the site of many of the events which have defined European civilization.” Moving chronologically, Winder marvels at how little we know about this region before the onslaught of Julius Caesar. When the Roman general lifted the veil in The Gallic War, it appeared as “a series of highly organized, sophisticated societies, in terms of military technology hard for the Romans to defeat and with large, complex and tough ships designed for the harsh weather of the Atlantic.” Tracing the disintegration of the invading marauders and the early Christian centuries’ attempts to “erase all trace of native paganism,” Winder enlivens his accounts with chronicles of his visits to many of these ancient archaeological grounds. Sifting through massive amounts of information covering centuries, he wisely structures the narrative around certain spots, such as Amiens or Beaune, and sharp profiles of notable historical figures—e.g., Hildegard von Bingen, “an obscure mystic from the twelfth-century Rhineland,” or Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, whose paintings were created “to drive you onto your knees, to think about our fate in a fallen world.” Throughout, Winder infuses his account with such energy and wit that readers may be pleasantly unaware of the many history lessons he imparts.

A meandering and highly entertaining amble through fascinating bits of history that culminates in the horrors of the invading armies of the world wars.

Pub Date: April 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-19218-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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