An educative, intelligent voice urges us to attend to history and the life of the mind.

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REAPPRAISALS

REFLECTIONS ON THE FORGOTTEN TWENTIETH CENTURY

Scholarly and polemical pieces, most with very sharp edges, published over the past dozen years, generally in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic.

Judt (Remarque Institute/NYU; The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century, 1998, etc.) introduces these essays with a jolting jeremiad about the dismal state of American intellectual life: our ignorance of history, our ready submission to fear, our determination to celebrate martial adventures. He arranges the book in a roughly thematic fashion, beginning with analyses of European totalitarianism, the horrors of the Holocaust and the concept of evil, especially as expressed in Hannah Arendt’s famous conception of its “banality.” He then reconsiders the intellectual lives of some notables: Albert Camus, Louis Althusser (Judt is alarmed that many still take him seriously) and historian Eric Hobsbawm, whose erudition he admires but whose purblindness about Communism he finds confounding. After some hard words for Pope John Paul II (he was obsessed with sex) and some encomiums for Edward Said (“He is irreplaceable”), the author shifts his focus to France, to England (he disdains Tony Blair) and to Belgium, his father’s homeland. Judt reprints his controversial essay about the Six-Day War in 1967 and follows it with more chiding of Israel, a country he compares to an unruly, immature teenager. Next come penetrating pieces on the Chambers-Hiss case, the Cuban Missile Crisis (RFK does not come off well; JFK does) and a blast from both rhetorical barrels at Henry Kissinger. Near the end, Judt delivers body blows to Thomas Friedman and other liberals who cheered on the Iraq War and warns that poor economies are sustenance for the Far Right.

An educative, intelligent voice urges us to attend to history and the life of the mind.

Pub Date: April 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59420-136-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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