An illuminating journey through the history and culture of the metropolis that “still towers over all other cities in Europe...




The author of Venice: A New History (2012) returns with the astonishing and sanguinary story of the iconic city on the Bosporus.

Madden (Director, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies/St. Louis Univ.) begins by noting the obvious: no text can possibly contain the sprawling story of Istanbul. Undaunted, he begins in 667 B.C.E. and whisks us along through the centuries, ending with current times, “still a city at the crossroads of the world.” Dominating the text are tales of empire, war, commerce, and religious strife and wrenching accounts of brutality: ambitious family members murdering one another in the quest for power; invaders slaughtering others by the thousands, raping, looting, and sacking. Madden is fond of the city, however (he has been there numerous times), and generally reserves judgment as he soars along, only occasionally bogging down in detailed accounts of battles and internecine nastiness. He does spend time telling us about the design and construction of some buildings that remain—and some that do not. We learn about the lack of urban design that characterized the city for centuries and its once-hopeless infrastructure; about the voice of Mark Twain saying that the city was best when viewed from a distance; and about customs occasioned by location and religion. (The author offers an enlightening section on harem life.) Madden, who prefers description and explication and narration to judgment and condemnation, explores the religious conflicts—e.g., the split between Christianity (East and West) and the rise of Islam. We also witness the extraordinary, even grotesque, lengths to which men have gone to achieve wealth and power. In our own day, Madden views the rise of nationalism as a new worry for the city, as well as the enduring religious conflicts that seem likely only to intensify.

An illuminating journey through the history and culture of the metropolis that “still towers over all other cities in Europe and the Middle East.”

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-01660-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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