A combination of history, analysis, investigative journalism, and personal crusade focusing on the fate of nine US air force personnel missing in action in Laos. Castle (At War in the Shadow of Vietnam, not reviewed) is an accomplished historian whose area of expertise is the American “secret war” in Laos. A Vietnam War veteran, university professor (National Security Studies/Air Univ.), and former Pentagon POW/MIA researcher and investigator, he brings unmatched qualifications to the task of telling the story of Site 85, a secret air force radar base in Laos overrun by the North Vietnamese army in March 1968. Of the18 men at the base, 7 escaped, 2 were killed, and 9 remain missing. Accounting for the missing was complicated by subsequent American bombing of the site and by the fact that American officials were reluctant to publicize US military actions in putatively neutral Laos. Castle makes an impassioned case that two other factors are also involved: Vietnamese and Lao communist intransigence—what he terms “well- documented deceit and obfuscation”—along with the mistakes and “duplicity” of American military officials, especially the US Air Force and the Pentagon’s Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office. The author does a thorough job of relating the history of Site 85 and gives a conscientious overview of the not-very-secret American war in Laos, concentrating on air force covert activities directing the air war over North Vietnam. The narrative changes direction, however, when Castle switches to the first person and chronicles his involvement in an NBC News documentary on the subject. He deserts his objectivity here for impassioned advocacy. Still, Castle’s impressive massing of facts shows why the fate of nine missing Americans will likely never be learned. An unorthodox but effective telling of what the author rightly calls an “ugly chapter of US history.” (36 photos, 1 map, not seen)

Pub Date: March 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-231-10316-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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