Richly researched and illustrated—a wholly edifying account.




Steinberg (History and Law/Case Western Reserve Univ.; American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, 2006, etc.) returns with an illuminating text that adheres strictly and powerfully to its subtitle.

The author performs a grand public service in this work examining the history of “one of the most drastically transformed natural environments in the world.” He begins with what Henry Hudson would have seen in 1609 (virtually nothing remains the same), then marches resolutely forward for more than 400 years, describing everything from the “purchase” of the island from the Native Americans to changes wrought under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A number of themes and subjects re-emerge: the visit George Washington made in the spring of 1789, the decision to arrange the streets in the form of a strict grid, the determination to reclaim land from the rivers and the sea, the destruction of the vast marshes (time-lapse charts show their shocking disappearance), changes in the wildlife brought about by human intervention (Manhattan used to be known for its wolves), the decisions about garbage and sewage that have had long-term consequences, and the threats now facing the area due to climate change and powerful storms (Hurricane Sandy finally prompted dilatory politicians to action). Steinberg also examines the political forces at work throughout the island’s last few centuries—forces not always at work in the public interest. The text overflows with arresting details. The once-booming sale of human manure, the construction of the Croton Aqueduct, the projects of Robert Moses, the effects of the 1939 World’s Fair, and construction of the Pulaski Skyway, the Meadowlands and Battery City Park—all appear in the view of the author’s ecological lens. He also gives us glimpses of the dangers confronting Gothamites—among them, extreme heat events and the rising ocean levels.

Richly researched and illustrated—a wholly edifying account.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4124-6

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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