With its mordant depiction of a republic pursuing imperial ends while its citizens pay lip service to political values they...




A splendid account of the death of the Roman Republic, particularly notable for the author’s ability to decode the underlying beliefs that drove events.

It’s no surprise that British novelist Holland (Slave of My Thirst, 1997, etc.), who has adapted such classical texts as the Aeneid for radio, brings formidable storytelling talents to a drama that begins with the temporary collapse of Roman rule over Asia in 89 b.c., climaxes with Julius Caesar’s fatal crossing of the Rubicon (a direct violation of the sacrosanct prohibition against bringing soldiers bearing arms into Italy) in 49 b.c., and reaches its sorry conclusion in 27 b.c., when his great-nephew Octavian was renamed “Augustus,” in effect becoming emperor. More unexpected is Holland’s brilliant portrait of Republican Rome’s worldview. In this “savagely meritocratic” society, “there was no distinguishing between political goals and personal ambition.” Campaigning for important posts like consul, magistrate, and tribune, candidates shamelessly spread money, influence, and the threat of mob violence. The system worked because everyone accepted the verdict of the voters, however achieved, and officials stepped down after their allotted year to compete all over again. Roman patricians often won their first fame as generals, but true glory came only from being acknowledged by their fellow citizens; force bowed to law, and “the age-old balance between ambition and duty” curbed the privileged class’s excesses. This delicate balance began to tip in 88 b.c., when Sulla marched on Rome rather than accept a political defeat; he renounced his role as dictator after one year, but later malcontents would not be so scrupulous. Power and honor had always been inseparable in Republican Rome, but the tide slowly turned toward power pure and simple. Without glossing over the brutality, hypocrisy, and corruption of the late Republic, Holland conveys appreciation for traditions that had endured for half a millennium and regret at their destruction.

With its mordant depiction of a republic pursuing imperial ends while its citizens pay lip service to political values they no longer practice, Holland’s gripping narrative has particularly uncomfortable resonance for contemporary American readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-50313-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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