A discerning, information-packed, and emotionally charged survey of America's crucible; by the author of the National Book Award-nominated Righteous Pilgrim (1990). As might be expected from a companion volume to an upcoming PBS series, the text is episodic and copiously illustrated. By themselves, the more than one hundred photographs and their long, illuminating captions do a fine job of conveying America's dark night. Many are the products of documentary and propaganda efforts by the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration—New Deal agencies that understood the power of the photograph to shape public opinion. Moving images of Hoovervilles, of the emaciated faces of migrant laborers and their families, and of the bloody conflicts of the union movement, Watkins explains, saturated the public consciousness and helped forge support for the New Deal. Reflecting these photographs by focusing on the human drama of the times, the author traces the era from the financial euphoria that led to the crash of 1929, and shows how the prevailing ethic of the upper classes—who were morally offended at the idea of ``handouts''—tied Hoover's hands long enough for FDR to be swept into office. But even with the ``alphabet soup'' of agencies created by Roosevelt's ``brain trust''—his first hundred days saw more legislation enacted than in any other period in our history—a rebound was a long time coming. Finally, Watkins makes clear, the struggle for economic relief—a struggle that included phenomena like the Bonus Army's march on Washington, the rising popularity of the Communist Party, and the fear of incipient class warfare—resulted in a new conception of government: government that would be a large and constant presence in American lives, promising a degree of security. Heartfelt and wide-ranging, and timely as well, as we continue to grapple with the nurturing sort of government put in place by FDR.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1993

ISBN: 0-316-92453-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1993

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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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