Harford’s contagious delight in his subject reminds readers not to take for granted the impact of objects and ideas so...

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FIFTY INVENTIONS THAT SHAPED THE MODERN ECONOMY

A well-known British economist shapes his radio broadcasts into chapters of a diverting collection of what he considers humanity’s greatest inventions.

Best taken in small doses, the chapters sometimes cover the expected territory but more often head off in surprising directions. For Financial Times senior columnist Harford (Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, 2016, etc.), an invention might be a concrete object, like a plow or a battery, but it’s just as likely to be a more abstract idea, like intellectual property or index funds. Fortunately, the author has a knack for making potentially dry and demanding concepts spring to life. For example, in a chapter on management consulting, Harford darts from a messy factory in contemporary Mumbai back to the 1930s to introduce the first cigar-chomping management consultant and the creation of a consulting company requiring its employees to wear white shirts and hats—and then back to Mumbai, pointing out telling details along the way. The author shines when tackling seemingly homely topics. Writing about barbed wire, he weaves together the philosophy of John Locke into a discussion of a material that its marketer called “lighter than air, stronger than whiskey, cheaper than dust.” Some might quibble that Harford awards a disproportionate amount of attention to relatively modern inventions. However, he makes it clear that these are personal choices, and his zest for his subjects makes them hard to resist; his lively, humorous style and wide-ranging curiosity make hard topics go down easily. And while the essays stand on their own, he has a broader point to make. “Inventions shape our lives in unpredictable ways,” he writes, “and while they’re solving a problem for someone, they’re often creating a problem for someone else.”

Harford’s contagious delight in his subject reminds readers not to take for granted the impact of objects and ideas so familiar they’re easy to overlook.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1613-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

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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