A fluent, well-written exercise in revisionism, one of interest to students of modern geopolitics as well as 19th-century...

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IMPERIAL TWILIGHT

THE OPIUM WAR AND THE END OF CHINA'S LAST GOLDEN AGE

A deeply researched study of an early clash of civilizations, when England attempted to impose its will on East Asia.

The Opium War of 1839 began, in at least one sense, a half-century earlier, when a British adventurer attracted enough attention after wandering around in the country to give the imperial Chinese government a solid case that it didn’t want outsiders to enter the realm. After a period of imprisonment, writes Platt (Chinese History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, 2012, etc.), the traveler returned to England, where he taught an American named Benjamin Franklin how to make tofu. After that comparatively pleasant interlude, things took a martial turn; Britain and France sent competing fleets, and Asia beckoned to every European imperial power. China tried to fend them off, with the governor general of Macao, for instance, closing off access to food and water to foreign fleets. While the emperor accepted gifts from the king of England, he did not welcome commerce: “If the king would just tend to the boundaries of his own empire…and feel ‘dutiful submission’ within his own heart, there would be no need for a British mission ever to come to China again.” The British did come, demanding that China open its markets for the sale of illegal opium. As the author notes, it’s not as if there was no demand for the product—Chinese students used it to stay sharp for their exams, and “for those in more humble situations who couldn’t afford to smoke it themselves, employment in the opium trade still provided a chance for income as couriers and petty dealers.” British victory opened the door to concessions to other European powers and, in time, brought down the Qing monarchy, which ushered in the modern, communist China—surely a lesson in unintended consequences.

A fluent, well-written exercise in revisionism, one of interest to students of modern geopolitics as well as 19th-century history.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-307-96173-0

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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