The Library Book

Front Cover
Thorndike Press, 2018 - HISTORY - 539 pages
17 Reviews
On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, patrons and staff outside of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, "Once that first stack got going, it was 'Goodbye, Charlie.'" The fire was disastrous, reaching 2000 degrees and burning for more than seven hours. It consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. More than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library -- and if so, who? Susan Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago. Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present -- from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as "The Human Encyclopedia" who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - rivkat - www.librarything.com

Reading about a giant 1986 library fire in LA now counts as escapism. Orlean is a great writer who moves from the history of the LA library system to the way a fire spreads to an inquiry into the life ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - susan.h.schofield - www.librarything.com

This was a fascinating book. It told the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Library in Los Angeles as well as the story of the main suspect, Harry Peak and the history of the library and it's ... Read full review

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About the author (2018)

Susan Orlean is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has also written for Outside, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. She graduated from the University of Michigan and worked as a reporter in Portland, Oregon, and Boston, Massachusetts. Orlean is the author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend. She now lives in New York City and can be reached via the internet at www.susanorlean.com