A unique history, unusually accessible because it is taken largely from the pen of a long-dead sailor. No prior knowledge of...




During the Civil War, some 172 feet of seagoing iron, with a deck a mere foot-and-a-half above the water line, made the world’s navies instantly obsolete. That’s maritime history, retold here. The human story, too, is told by one of the ship’s crewmen.

The Monitor, the Union’s “cheesebox on a raft,” was the brainchild of the brilliant, feisty John Ericsson. It changed naval warfare forever, and it changed the lives of its sailors. Civil War historian Marvel’s (Burnside, 1991) text is composed largely of letters from the Monitor’s fireman George Geer to his wife in New York. They date from the time Geer boarded the newly commissioned warship in January 1862 through its foundering in rough seas the last day of the same year. Within weeks of her launching, the Monitor engaged in its historic duel with the Confederate Merrimack (rechristened the Virginia), which withdrew. Each ship’s guns were unable to penetrate the other’s armor. Marvel’s exposition is clear and succinct, as are Geer’s letters, in beautiful penmanship and atrocious spelling. Though his depictions of events occasionally tend to be wrong (elevating routine siege fire to major battles and exaggerating casualties), his narrative of the heat and fumes, the crew’s bad food, and the scourge of Confederate sharpshooters on shore is remarkably interesting, with a mordant wit often evident. His occasional dispirit, his money worries, his efforts to gain a promotion, and his regular husbandly assurances of his well-being (especially after his survival of the sinking of his ship) attest to the conflict’s human concerns. We learn nothing of Geer’s postwar life, and Mrs. Geer’s letters did not survive (although it is interesting to note that the mails went through with more dispatch then than they seem to today). A final chapter deals with continuing efforts to recover the wreck of the historic ship.

A unique history, unusually accessible because it is taken largely from the pen of a long-dead sailor. No prior knowledge of maritime practice or Civil War arcana necessary. (100 b&w and color illustrations)

Pub Date: July 3, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-86997-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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