The Library Book

The Library Book

Book - 2018 | First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
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The author reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history. This book chronicles the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) fire, and its aftermath, to showcase the crucial role that libraries play in our lives. The author delves into the evolution of libraries around the world, from their humble beginnings to their status as a cornerstone of the community; brings the departments of the library to life through on-the-ground reporting; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL. The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library? In addition to examining the circumstances of the fire, the author delves into the history of the LAPL. The book introduces us to a cast of characters from libraries past and present - from Mary Foy; who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the LAPL at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, "The Human Encyclopedia," who roamed the library dispensing information. The book introduces readers to Charles Lummis, an eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, and to the staff in the twenty-first century, who work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.--adapted from publisher's description and end-papers.
Publisher: New York : Simon and Schuster, 2018
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781476740188
1476740186
9781476740195
1476740194
9781476740201
1476740208
9781782392262
1782392262
Characteristics: 319 pages : illustrations, photographs ; 25 cm

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From Library Staff

In 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library lost almost half a million books to a raging fire. Who started the fire, and why?


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betsymarzoni
May 24, 2019

Using a fire at the main library in Los Angeles that was never solved, Susan Orlean takes us behind the scenes and makes us aware of all the moving parts of a large metropolitan library and then throws in the fascinating history and the characters who built the institution. If you love and revere books and libraries, you should read this!

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CarleeMcDot
May 08, 2019

I had seen this book on a few "must read" lists recently so I snagged my spot in line at the library (the wait-list was in the double digits when I joined it) and waited patiently. This was the first book I've read by this author, but I know it won't be my last. This was a story that was part mystery, part history. I really enjoyed it. Although I've lived in Southern California for over 13 years, I've never heard about the Los Angeles Public Library Fire in the late 80s. It burned for over 7 hours, had a heat of over 2000 degrees and damaged over a million books. Talk about a sad day in LA! The story did jump around a bit from chapter to chapter, but I really enjoyed how the book titles at the beginning of each chapter described what could be expected (super clever!). A few of the sections on past employees of the library seemed to drag a little longer than I would have liked, but otherwise I stayed interested and engaged the entire time. Shoot, it even motivated me to look and see if there were any positions available at my local library (AND APPLY TO ONE THAT WAS CURRENTLY OPEN!). I love how the research the author did for this book rekindled a love for physical books (especially in the age of e-readers) and the library as a whole. I fell in love with the library a couple years ago, so this book is right up my alley! I would give it a 9 out of 10.

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tluciv
May 06, 2019

Full of interesting characters, including the most interesting main branch of the Los Angeles public library.

c
chascalz
May 01, 2019

Entertaining,informative . Also a mystery of sorts about the LA library fire.

All you wanted to know about libraries but were afraid to ask. 5 stars

Orlean is an interesting writer.

c
ckapadia
May 01, 2019

When my book club suggested this I thought it was a true crime novel. But it was a lot of history and it didn't have the flow of an Erik Larson novel. I skimmed, then I skipped entire chapters. This book was a bore.

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Inga57
Apr 26, 2019

Standing in applause, the research alone is worth 5 stars and Orlean’s writing is top-notch, worthy of many accolades and choice awards.

Second time around - Kindle
Downtowner's Book Group Read, Kansas City, MO
Loving this book more than the first time around as my son took me to the Downtown Central Library in Los Angeles for a docent-led-tour on my birthday. All of the participants were from out-of-town and came after reading Susan Orlean's book which created a more attentive audience as many places/items were discussed in the book.

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ellenmargaret1953
Apr 24, 2019

This was a delightful surprise. Although it started by capturing my attention with the massive 1986 fire at the LA Central Library, it quickly moves to giving you the history of the library, a glimpse into the leadership and the present day librarians. What an imaginative group of librarians were involved in the library over the years as they expanded its services, books, and other media. I had to go visit my own community library right away after finishing it. Perfect for a book club topic.

s
seanreinhart
Apr 21, 2019

📚🔥 It’s every librarian’s nightmare. A devastating loss to a vibrant city’s collective culture and memory. In 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown crisis in Russia, the Los Angeles Central Library was set ablaze by an arsonist. The fire spread quickly through the old building and incinerated everything in its path, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of thousands of books and priceless archival items were reduced to ash. Hundreds of thousands more were irreversibly damaged or severely threatened by water and smoke damage. The next day, thousands of volunteers converged on the building and formed a human chain, handing waterlogged books out of the building and rushing them to local commercial freezers to prevent mold from destroying them forever. An extraordinary paean to the glory of libraries and their uniquely important place in the American social edifice. Author Susan Orlean combines a detailed journalistic style with her characteristically vivid and evocative prose to do more than simply tell the tale of a devastating fire and rebirth. Along the way, she rekindles her (and our) love for the American public library, and illustrates why this beloved institution perpetually rises from the ashes, again and again. 📖

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Linyarai
Apr 17, 2019

I wasn't sure what this book was about when I began it, but I was pleasantly surprised and loved it. Some parts were a little dry and almost felt unnecessary, but overall the details were good and didn't slow the plot down at very much. I had no idea there even was a library fire then, but now I want to go to LA and visit their new building.

g
Ginamarguerite
Apr 13, 2019

Fantastic read. From the way the blurb read I thought I was picking up a mystery or even a thriller. The Library Book is a non-fiction, but Orlean tells such a great story you are entertained from the first words.

Chapter one filled me with nostalgia -- her words about going to the library with her mother took me back to my own child and young adulthood when every Wednesday night -- the night our local library was open late -- we traveled into town to pick out our reads for the next week. Both my parents were avid readers and they had a collection of books -- my dad had a collection of the "Worlds Greatest Literature" and a full set of Charles Dickens from his just childhood in the early 1900's -- like 1920's and forward.

Orlean then introduces her readers to the earliest librarians in Los Angeles's Central Branch and the man suspected of setting fire to the library. Chapters on great libraries, libraries destroyed in war or in an effort to destory history as we know it. The people who built them and how the library is more than just books.

This is a must read for anyone who reads. And if you aren't a reader, and you find your way to this review, do check it out -- it will make you one.

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Liber_vermis
Mar 19, 2019

"When I first learned that the library had a shipping department ... I couldn't think of anything a library needed to ship. I came to learn that what gets shipped ... [are] books traveling from one branch to another. The shipping department at Central moves thirty-two thousand books - the equivalent of an entire branch library - around the city of Los Angeles five days a week. It is as if the city has a bloodstream flowing through it, oxygenated by books." (p. 61)

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