A welcome study of a “multifaceted, very eighteenth-century woman.”

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CATHERINE THE GREAT

LOVE, SEX, AND POWER

Lively biography of a much misunderstood, most gifted ruler of Russia.

“That this most civilized of women should be known by most people only in relation to the infamous and entirely untrue ‘horse story’ is one of the greatest injustices of history,” grumbles London-based translator and writer Rounding. In fairness to that misperception, Sophia Frederica Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst, having climbed to the top of the “feudal anthill,” was renowned for affairs with the courtiers and retainers who surrounded her; what with all the amorous hustle and bustle, it’s easy to see how a steed could steal into the narrative. Catherine, Rounding makes clear, understood that sex was an element of power. She had come to a St. Petersburg that was still mostly a metropolis of log cabins to be married off to young Peter III, who, it emerged, was a bit of a dimwit and rather easily controlled. “Instead of being able to be a wise consort to his young wife-to-be,” Rounding writes, “Peter found it was the other way round, and he did not, on the whole, welcome this.” Catherine was, after all, well-read, fluent in several languages and given to philosophy and literature, though in later life her philosophy was of a practical and even Machiavellian nature; writing that children cried either to complain or out of stubbornness, for instance, she urged that “neither sort of tears should be allowed, all crying should be forbidden.” Moscow does not believe in tears, indeed, but Catherine had shed many as Peter kept his distance from her, pushing her into the willing arms of a succession of dashing cavaliers and counselors who helped her build St. Petersburg into a mighty city and Russia into a mighty empire; in this regard, Rounding ranks the empress as equal to or greater than her predecessor Peter the Great, who was certainly more murderous than she.

A welcome study of a “multifaceted, very eighteenth-century woman.”

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-32887-7

Page Count: 592

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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