The book doesn’t contain an underlying theme, and Atkins learns most of his history and science from books, but he has an...




A wide-ranging travelogue, covering eight deserts, interspersed with historical accounts of desert geography and travel.

Making up one-sixth of our planet’s land, deserts have fascinated writers since the dawn of Christianity, a group that includes Atkins (The Moor: A Journey into the English Wilderness, 2014), the former editorial director of Pan Macmillan UK. A lucid observer, the author chronicles his travels through the world’s most arid lands, ruminating on their history, natural history, ongoing conditions, and mostly discouraging future. Viewing the world through British eyes, he makes a beeline for the first of his eight deserts, the great Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and Oman, a destination of the author’s most flamboyant countrymen, from T.E. Lawrence to Harry St. John Philby, whose paths he has tried to follow. Next up is Australia’s Great Victorian Desert, still partly off-limits as a result of 1950s British nuclear tests and home to a large Indigenous population ejected from their lands to accommodate the tests. No one was ejected from the Kyzylkum Desert in central Asia, but the population was impoverished as Soviet irrigation emptied the Aral Sea. American readers will enjoy the absence of depressing news from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and they will also find an account of the nostalgic wackiness of the Burning Man festival. In the Great Sonoran Desert to the southwest, thousands of migrants have died trying to reach the United States. Atkins describes activists who set out water and provisions deep in the desert and the vigilantes and Border Patrol agents who destroy them. Each section begins with a detailed map to help situate readers in the region.

The book doesn’t contain an underlying theme, and Atkins learns most of his history and science from books, but he has an acute eye and delivers unrelated but satisfying journalistic accounts of the world’s hottest, driest regions.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-53988-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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