A highly selective chronicle of elaborate eleventh-hour heroics by unconventional thinkers and men of action.




An instructive series of portraits of five military outsiders called in to turn defeat into victory.

Admittedly arbitrary, pro-Western and biased toward fighters of the “good” wars, these minibiographies by accomplished military historian Hanson (Obama: The Dream and the Reality, 2012, etc.) jump rather jarringly from the ancient world (Themistocles at Salamis 480 B.C.) to the American Civil War (William Tecumseh Sherman marching on Atlanta), without much in between. In all of the struggles, Hanson spotlights the unglamorous backgrounds of these generals, called in when the more upper-echelon leaders had failed; they were able to inspire the rank and file, think “outside of the box” and display unusual cool-headed mettle. Moreover, in retirement, they were often misunderstood, ill-appreciated and even abused. Hanson calls them “fireman,” leaders “asked to extinguish the conflagration that others, of typically superior rank and prestige, have ignited.” For example, in the panic to abandon Athens to the invading Persian King Xerxes, the Athenian lowborn general Themistocles stood like Charles de Gaulle against the invading Germans, as the author compares him, without any legitimacy but fighting words and a cunning plan to make a stand at Salamis despite an overwhelming Persian naval force. In 100 days, Matthew Ridgway, called into Korea in December 1950 after the sudden death of Gen. Walton Walker, turned around the defeatist mentality of the American troops, securing Seoul from the Chinese and North Koreans, restoring the 38th Parallel and convincing his bosses not to penetrate further into Korea. Gen. David Petraeus, too, was able to take a losing scenario in Iraq and employ a counterinsurgency success. However, resentment often hounded the generals in later years.

A highly selective chronicle of elaborate eleventh-hour heroics by unconventional thinkers and men of action.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60819-163-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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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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