A riveting trek combining enthralling nature writing with engaging social history.




A National Book Award finalist unravels the compelling back story of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Olson (Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition, 2003, etc.) combines nature writing with an investigative focus on the political, economic, and historical factors that changed the way scientists study volcanoes. Whether the author is delving into the dangers of working in the timber industry, offering an overview of the state of volcanology in 1980, or recounting the stories of individuals living and working near Mount St. Helens, his writing propels readers swiftly along as the story races toward the massive blast and its aftermath. Olson details the story of Weyerhaeuser, the infamous Washington logging company that owned “substantial portions of the land between Mount St. Helens and the Pacific Ocean.” The author weaves in both the corporate and family history of the Weyerhaeusers (“an American dynasty”), using that remarkable story as foundation for his narrative. This framework offers a compelling look into the region’s environmental and social history and how the company and the timber industry shaped a region. “It is difficult to overstate the significance of Weyerhaeuser Company to the history of the Pacific Northwest,” writes the author. “Weyerhaeuser and other economic interests have formed the backdrop against which much of the region’s history has played out.” Olson pinpoints 1980, the year of the eruption, as significant due to the social, economic, and environmental changes taking shape across America and what these shifts meant for the timber industry. The author provides an engrossing explanation of volcanology during the 1980s and how the eruption of Mount St. Helens altered the prevailing science. He also captures the forgotten or untold stories of the individuals who perished in the blast and describes the political wrangling surrounding the status of the devastated area.

A riveting trek combining enthralling nature writing with engaging social history.

Pub Date: March 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24279-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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