The argument is a little scattershot and occasionally self-serving, as social criticism tends to be, but Jacoby makes a good...



Anti-intellectualism is as American as—well, as anti-intellectualism, an ironic tradition that, writes Jacoby (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, 2004, etc.), allows the president to declare himself pro-education while admitting to not reading newspapers.

Of course, the author adds, Bush said that “he rarely read newspapers because that would expose him to ‘opinions,’ ” opinions presumably meaning anything with which he did not agree. Yet Bush’s just-plain-folks appeals worked, at least for a while; even Hillary Clinton calls people folks, which, grumbles Jacoby, sounds forced and inauthentic, just like the rest of politics. Americans, it seems, prefer their presidents on the autodidactic side, and not too smart. Even if Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar, Teddy Roosevelt a historian and Woodrow Wilson a college president, the model is always of Lincoln, even if he in turn lamented “his lack of systematic formal schooling [which is] left out of the self-congratulatory story of American self-education.” Contrary to this strain, notes the author, is the middlebrow contribution to the culture, which thrived on self-education and manifested itself in such organs as the Book-of-the-Month Club, all “within the broader context of mass marketing.” Even the middlebrows are largely absent these days, Jacoby laments, as are the opportunities she once had as a magazine writer to turn out long think pieces for women’s magazines that now specialize in short features about how to please your man. Jacoby twits the academic enemies of intelligence—professors who write endless tomes on Bob Dylan’s poetry and chair programs in “fat studies”—while zapping the usual suspects, such as television and video games, as assassins of the mind and spirit.

The argument is a little scattershot and occasionally self-serving, as social criticism tends to be, but Jacoby makes a good case for having a president who reads and a culture that provides material worth reading.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-42374-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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