Engrossing history, vivid contemporary reporting and a cogent call to action, expertly blended in an illuminating text.




Expanding on his New Yorker article exposing fraud in the olive oil industry, Mueller considers the trade’s past, present, and future.

The author opens with an olive oil tasting, where experts identify the flavors and fragrances that distinguish high-quality oil from lampante, which can legally be sold only for fuel—except that lax enforcement by the EU has led to an epidemic of oil labeled extra virgin and/or “100 percent Italian” when in fact it is a blend of cheaper oils from other countries. In addition to the slippery (but often surprisingly engaging) rascals whose shenanigans Mueller investigated in the original article, the author visits conscientious cultivators striving to elevate standards with a combination of time-honored techniques and cutting-edge technology. Among them are the De Carlos in Puglia, historic center of Italian olive oil production; the Vaño family in Jaén, trying to improve the generally low quality of Spanish oil; and Gordon Smyth of the New Norcia monastery near Perth, innovative preserver of a tradition established by the Spanish monks who brought olive trees to Australia in 1846. Mueller consults with chemists and government officials on two continents to examine why extra virgin olive oil is so healthful and why attempts to control its adulteration have been so ineffectual. (Short answer: corruption in Italy; indifferent FDA in America.) He intersperses aromatic vignettes from the history of olive oil, which in centuries past adorned the bodies of Greek athletes, burned in lamps in Christian churches, served as a folk remedy for a plethora of ailments and set the civilized Romans apart from those barbarians who favored meat, beer and animal fat over bread, wine and oil. So, “[a]re we witnessing a renaissance in oil, or the death of an industry?” The answer is still uncertain, but lovers of fine food and fine prose will relish Mueller’s exploration of the storied byways and modern sanctuaries of the olive, related with supple elegance.

Engrossing history, vivid contemporary reporting and a cogent call to action, expertly blended in an illuminating text.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07021-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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