Unquestionably erudite, but the vast amount of information in this digressive work may limit the appeal.



Imagination and historical research converge in this memoir-ish book about books and a whole lot more.

Spanish author Vallejo, here “consumed by the book I’m writing,” beckons readers to join her on a sprawling, learned, lively personal history tour of books—“a silent dialogue between you and me.” The narrative quickly morphs into a comprehensive, fact-laden, occasionally rambling intellectual history of ancient Greece and Rome. The author opens with a fablelike story about a king sending out hunters to find books, papyrus scrolls in many languages, “light, beautiful, and portable,” for a great library in Alexandria. When Mark Antony arrived, he tried to woo Cleopatra with a special gift: 200,000 books for the city’s library. “In Alexandria,” writes Vallejo, “books served as fuel for passion,” and that institution became the world’s first public library. After Alexander died young, King Ptolemy worked to maintain the vast library, enlisting the help of a variety of scholars. Vallejo’s narrative jumps around: illuminating tales from ancient history, descriptions of her research in Oxford’s libraries, how to read a scroll, the education of a scribe, our fascination with The Iliad and The Odyssey. Throughout, the author draws on other writers (Borges, Christopher Morley, Umberto Eco) and films (Memento, It’s a Wonderful Life) to help make her points, and she is clearly filled with wonder about myriad topics, almost all literary. For example, how many books were in ancient Greece? How many people could read then? Before turning her gaze to Rome, she discusses libraries in Nazi concentration camps. When the Romans led their military expeditions into Greece, they turned its books “into the spoils of war.” In the “story of books in Rome, slaves are the protagonists.” Vallejo frequently diverges from her primary path, covering education, religious persecution, the rise of reading, bookselling, and countless other topics.

Unquestionably erudite, but the vast amount of information in this digressive work may limit the appeal.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-31889-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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