In a time when education in the classics is ever scarcer, this is an attractive and learned introduction to a history that...



A welcome survey of the two greatest powers in the ancient Mediterranean world and their bound destinies.

The ancient Greeks, as BBC presenter Spawforth (Emeritus, Ancient History/Newcastle Univ.; Versailles: The Biography of a Palace, 2008) observes, “were migrants and emigrants” who established far-flung colonies and told stories of wandering, not the least of them The Odyssey. The Romans, who admired the Greeks more than any of their other neighbors, were committed to the notion that they had always been at the center of the world, yet were it not for their regard for the Greeks, “the cultural legacy of Greece would not have been preserved and cultivated to anything like the extent that it was.” The author digs deep into Greek and Roman history to find similarities and differences while also considering relations with other powers—e.g., Carthage, Egypt, Persia. Spawforth also considers the nature of Greek and Roman political power, real and imagined, as with Plato, of whose Republic he writes, “how serious Plato was about the achievability of this totalitarian vision is a debate among experts which we cannot go into here.” The author is an uncommonly clear explainer of troublingly complex issues. Why did Julius Caesar break a promising alliance with Pompey? At least in part, he writes, because the more Caesar achieved militarily, the more a jealous Pompey was courted by the “conservative aristocrats” who had long tried to dissolve the partnership. How did Christianity overwhelm the Roman Empire and polytheistic Greece as well? At least in some small measure, via writings that wooed the literate populace in such a way as to “snag the interest of educated Greek-speaking people in the non-Jewish world” by punning, for instance, on the name of Jesus and the verb meaning “to cure.”

In a time when education in the classics is ever scarcer, this is an attractive and learned introduction to a history that reverberates in present events.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-21711-7

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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