A solid performance, though, placing key events in a larger perspective without playing down the vast stupidity of many of...




Western historian Borneman (Alaska, 2003, etc.) argues that the war of 1812, often dismissed as a sideshow to European events, had a profound impact on US history.

He begins by examining the conflict’s origins. The English practice of impressing seamen from American vessels was the most widely cited casus belli at the time (and the one most of us read about in high-school history class). Equally important was the outspoken desire of many Westerners, including Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, to annex more territory, including as much of Canada as the US could grab. Much of the war was fought on the Canadian front, including several key naval battles on the Great Lakes. When invading US troops burned the Canadian city of York (later renamed Toronto), the English—temporarily free from the threat of Napoleon—retaliated by burning Washington and bombarding Baltimore’s Fort McHenry before retiring. Borneman does a good job of showing how the American war was, in English eyes, a sideshow to the struggles taking place in Europe. Wellington was one of several English generals who declined the command of the armies sent to America, which by 1814 included veterans of the Napoleonic wars. James Madison, vastly unpopular in New England (which seriously considered seceding from the Union), sent his best diplomats to attempt to negotiate a truce; England was willing, but saw no urgency to give in on the issue of impressment. When a deal was finally struck, it arrived too late to prevent the war’s culminating Battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson defeated a crack British army. Borneman argues, perhaps a bit too glibly, that the war effectively cemented the American union in the eyes of its citizens.

A solid performance, though, placing key events in a larger perspective without playing down the vast stupidity of many of the participants.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-053112-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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