Meaner would have been funnier; fresher could have been more insightful.




An occasionally illuminating book, but more often an attempt to pass clichés and stereotypes as insight, by a prolific academic whose stabs at humor might play better in his native England.

In case his American readers might otherwise take offense, Eagleton (The Event of Literature, 2012, etc.) explains, “As befits a puritan race, Americans tend to make a sharper distinction between what is serious and what is not. There is sometimes more need of a shift in tone to signal that what you are saying is meant to be frivolous, light-hearted or just plain silly.” So, when he proceeds to observe that “there is, to be sure, a lot of obesity elsewhere on the planet, but nobody is as mind-warpingly, transcendentally enormous as an enormous American,” some readers may decide that he’s just being lighthearted, while others could suggest that he is belaboring the obvious. Eagleton does so throughout a short book that seems longer, one that suggests to the few who haven’t reached such conclusions on their own that there are strains of hypocrisy and foolish jingoism underlying the country’s celebration of all-American ideals and values. To Europeans, he writes, “Suggesting that the Almighty has a special affection for your nation would sound as absurd as claiming that he has a special affection for gummy bears.” More often, the author sets his sights lower than the heavens, such as the differences in American and English diction: “The British use the rather beautiful word ‘children’ far more often than Americans do, who tend to prefer the ugly, demeaning monosyllable ‘kids.’ It is surprising that a nation so scrupulous about political correctness should be content to regard its offspring as small smelly goats.” Oh, and “an Englishman who gets through twenty fags a day is not necessarily a promiscuous homosexual.” Now living in Dublin, the professor also has plenty to say about the Irish.

Meaner would have been funnier; fresher could have been more insightful.

Pub Date: May 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-08898-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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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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