An ambitious book with the courage to take on the images that complacent postcapitalism might prefer to forget, and the...

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DREAMWORLD AND CATASTROPHE

THE PASSING OF MASS UTOPIA IN EAST AND WEST

BuckMorss (The Dialectics of Seeing, 1989) turns her Benjaminian eye on the often surprising convergence of the Western and Soviet utopian imaginaries, to dazzling effect.

Reading this book is like receiving a fascinating annotated scrapbook from your really smart friend in Moscow. From 1988 to 1993, BuckMorss was a visiting scholar there, at what was first called the Institute of Philosophy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The fact that, by the end of her tenure, it was known as the Russian Academy of Sciences attests to the ideological turbulence of those years and to the dynamism and relevance of her task. BuckMorss's previous book was a daring attempt to reverseengineer Walter Benjamin’s Paris Arcades Project out of the more than one thousand fragments left behind at his death. If Benjamin's project was, as he put it, ``concerned with awakening from the nineteenth century,'' BuckMorss's current undertaking is a nonetoogentle attempt to shake us out of the nightmare that has been our 20th. The scope of her research, often breathtaking, more than justifies a certain measure of methodological madness: with an irreverent collagist sensibility worthy of the high modernism at issue here, she nimbly leaps from a blackly hilarious and terrifying chronology of the policy decisions surrounding Lenin's embalming, to a minihistory of the figure of the square in avantgarde art on both sides of the Cold War, to a visual pun that compares the architectural sketch for a neverbuilt ``Palace of the Supreme Soviets,'' topped by a monumental Lenin statue, with a film still of King Kong atop the Empire State Building. There's even an early-1990s attempt at ``hypertext'': scholarly footnotes that threaten to overtake the page. This experiment, however, works less well than those parts of the book that devote themselves to a cleareyed reading of the visual detritus of mass culture.

An ambitious book with the courage to take on the images that complacent postcapitalism might prefer to forget, and the erudition to read them with rigor and wit.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-262-02464-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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