An engaging study, full of odd twists and forgotten episodes.




Just in time for the big-budget remake of The Alamo: not a tie-in, but a learned account of how Texas came to be an independent republic, and then the Lone Star State.

The Alamo fell to Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna’s troops on March 6, 1836, at the cost of some two hundred rebel defenders and perhaps twice as many attackers—a far count from the endless heaps of Mexican corpses that littered the set of John Wayne’s film version. Santa Anna’s chance defeat at San Jacinto not long afterward fulfilled the efforts of a generation of Americans to seize Texas. More immediately, writes Davis (Center for Civil War Studies/Virginia Tech; Look Away!, 2002, etc.), it spelled the collapse of law and order in Texas, “especially on the outer fringes of settlement, where lawless whites and opportunistic Indians raided settlers. . . . The war left communities largely on their own.” Thus the rise of lone marshals, stalwart rangers, and other legendary figures of the frontier. The realities of the war of independence were far from romantic, though, and certainly more complex than the standard textbook view would have it. Davis skillfully describes the roles of often-overlooked participants in the revolution, such as native tejanos who wanted freedom from Spain and then Mexico, but not absorption into the US. He also extends the chronology of the independence movement to the beginning of the 19th century, when strategists in Washington vied with foreign adventurers such as would-be pirate king Louis Michel Aury to lure Texas away from its beleaguered Spanish masters. In the end, Davis shows, “Texian” newcomers effectively wrested the movement from the tejanos, thwarting their ambitions to establish a Catholic, Spanish-speaking republic and attach Texas to the slaveholding South. Could it have been otherwise? “Almost surely,” writes the author, “the United States was going to expand to fill its continent sooner or later, though nothing is inevitable in history.”

An engaging study, full of odd twists and forgotten episodes.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-684-86510-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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