An eye-opening spotlight on the nation’s most enduring political document.



The creation of the U.S. Constitution was driven by the desire for democracy—and money.

After the Revolutionary War, 13 loosely aligned, newly independent states had a united nation to run. Their primary political document, the Articles of Confederation, however, was a recipe for economic disaster, with each state espousing autonomous fiscal policies without a powerful central governmental authority to mediate among them. As demonstrated in smart detail by Holton (History/Univ. of Richmond; Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, 1999), the result was chaos in almost every corner of the struggling new nation. War bonds, for example, were either unredeemable or worth a fraction of their promised value. Paper currency, a concept widely feared, debated and even banned by certain state legislatures, became a constant source of interstate bickering. Property values plunged, causing the prosperity of many prominent families to vanish almost overnight while economic predators profited from their losses. In especially depressed states where onerous tax bills could only be satisfied by the seizure and auction of property, riots regularly closed courthouses and put judges’s lives in jeopardy. Foreign investment, desperately needed to foster economic growth, remained locked in Europe, posing yet another threat to America’s hard-won independence. In this unstable atmosphere, immense social and political pressure was placed on the Founding Fathers. Politically, many believed that the Articles of Confederation were too weak, but acceptable alternative political models were lacking: Europe’s monarchical systems were naturally considered abhorrent. Economically, the priority was to find ways to increase the money supply and to substantially ease and redistribute the tax burden. Holton painstakingly locates all the key political figures of the era within the divisive, argumentative Continental Congress, including Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, explaining how each was affected by the fiscal turmoil roiling the land.

An eye-opening spotlight on the nation’s most enduring political document.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8090-8061-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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...


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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