Orlean’s work in general has that elusive quality to it: exquisitely written, consistently entertaining and irreducible to anything so obvious and pedestrian as a theme ... a loving tribute not just to a place or an institution but to an idea ... Her depiction of the Central Library fire on April 29, 1986, is so rich with specifics that it’s like a blast of heat erupting from the page ... What makes The Library Book so enjoyable is the sense of discovery that propels it, the buoyancy when Orlean is surprised or moved by what she finds.
...a wide-ranging, deeply personal and terrifically engaging investigation of humanity’s bulwark against oblivion: the library ... As a narrator, Orlean moves like fire herself, with a pyrotechnic style that smolders for a time over some ancient bibliographic tragedy, leaps to the latest technique in book restoration and then illuminates the story of a wildly eccentric librarian ... With a great eye for telling and quirky detail, she presents a vast catalogue of remarkable characters ... If the spine of The Library Book seems strained to contain so much diverse material, that variety is also what makes this such a constant pleasure to read ... You can’t help but finish The Library Book and feel grateful that these marvelous places belong to us all.
Bibliophiles will feel deeply understood from the start, when Orlean talks about bringing her young son to a branch library in Los Angeles, just as her own mother had taken her to one in the Cleveland suburbs ... As Orlean delves into Central Library’s history, she re-animates the lively characters who once dominated the scene ... Unexpectedly engaging sections are tied to architects and landscaping and budgets, plus the overwhelming modern challenges of homelessness and mental illness ... In other hands the book would have been a notebook dump, packed with random facts that weren’t germane but felt too hard-won or remarkable to omit. Orlean’s lapidary skills include both unearthing the data and carving a storyline out of the sprawl, piling up such copious and relevant details that I wondered how many mountains of research she discarded for each page of jewels ... in telling the story of this one library, Orlean reminds readers of the spirit of them all, their mission to welcome and equalize and inform, the wonderful depths and potential that they—and maybe all of us, as well—contain.
But because this is Susan Orlean, with her uncanny ability to reveal the complex (and surprisingly compelling) machinations behind the seeming banality of the everyday, The Library Book is anything but dull ... There are a few moments that Orlean broaches, but doesn’t fully mine, the subtext of the stories she presents ... More intimate explorations are also fleeting ... Still, what I appreciate most about Orlean is how genuinely interested I believe she is in worlds outside of her own, and of the obvious respect she offers to those who populate and power them.
If you, like me, care about books, reading [Orlean's] brilliant, awful description of the conflagration feels like watching a snuff film ... This is one of the underlying ideas of The Library Book— that books, as both objects and ideas, are essential to the human project; that libraries are a vital destination that holds them safe ... It is a fine mystery...
Susan Orlean’s The Library Book is ostensibly an investigative report on this catastrophic event and its cultural context. In its essence, however, the book is a treatise on the value of our public libraries, the most democratic spaces in our country. It is a call to protect these sacred places of collective memory ... this book is [Orlean's] most personal yet ... Orlean’s book encourages us to make necessary trouble in order to keep our public libraries alive, and ends with a bit of lasting wisdom...
...[a] kaleidoscopic and riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism ... While her forensic account of the conflagration is eerily mesmerizing, Orlean is equally enthralling in her awestruck detailing of the spectrum of activities that fill a typical Central Library day, and in her profiles of current staff and former head librarians ... Probing, prismatic, witty, dramatic, and deeply appreciative, Orlean’s chronicle celebrates libraries as sanctuaries, community centers, and open universities run by people of commitment, compassion, creativity, and resilience.
It’s difficult to pull away from the story when her incisive research skills and masterful writing work in symbiosis: The Library Book is not just a sweeping narrative recounting the 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire, but also an in-depth look at the personal, civic, and global impact a library can have ... Reading The Library Book is not unlike combing through the stacks of your local branch: it exposes many truths, and offers answers as well as questions. While the fire at the Los Angeles Central Library may be long forgotten... Orlean’s genuine ardor for this peculiar and overlooked story is adroitly conveyed by her prose—the fuel igniting this literary page-turner.
Orlean interviews everybody still available and goes over all the evidence for and against Peak’s guilt, and she writes it all with tremendous narrative skill. Readers who might not imagine themselves interested in the nuts-and-bolts details of a library fire 40 years ago will find themselves hanging on every twist in the tale. But as satisfying as that tale is, there are other levels to The Library Book, and they’re every bit as satisfying and more surprising ... This is the most lasting magic of The Library Book: this ravishing evocation of the magic that has at one time or another enchanted us all. The book functions perfectly well as a thrilling true-crime history, but it’s these broader moments that make it a special achievement even for this seasoned author and brings out some of her most beautiful prose.
Though The Library Book is at its heart (or spine?) a love letter to libraries, a fascinating true-crime story serves as its centerpiece ... Though the fire and investigation create a through line for the book, The Library Book also presents a history of the Los Angeles Public Library from its birth in 1873, bringing to life a series of fascinating people (including several remarkable women who ran the library in its early years, one of whom was just 18). And Orlean takes us inside the library as it is now, showing us how it works, profiling its staff and exploring issues contemporary libraries face: digitization of materials; how best to help and serve homeless patrons; drawing young readers to libraries; the future of the institution.
I just didn’t expect to fall in love [with The Library Book] so quickly. But by page three, I was head over heels when I read how she made magic of the mundane ... You become engaged; you want to find the culprit; you agonize for the traumatized librarians; you cheer for the hundreds of volunteers who rush to help remove the smoked wreckage from the Central Library; you applaud the man — the wonderful man — from ARCO who opens his corporate headquarters across the street to warehouse the damaged books, and then helps raise $14 million to rebuild the library ... Orlean makes music with her words; they warble and trill across her pages and sing straight into your heart.
Susan Orlean’s seventh book, a passionate paean to libraries, is going to make a lot of librarians and book lovers extremely happy ... Like the best research collections, The Library Book is stuffed with amazing facts ... As always, Orlean’s research is staggering. Her description of the 1986 fire...is nearly as intense as the 2500-degree heat, and surprisingly beautiful ... Sometimes, Orlean takes her research to ridiculous lengths, like forcing herself to burn a book on her hilltop Los Angeles property ... Orlean obviously had some fun with this total immersion project, and curious readers who love following writers down unexpected byways in search of out of the way information will too.
It’s a story filled with quirky characters and glimpses of bigger movements ... Orlean has a tendency to place herself in the narrative, and it’s a bit uncomfortable when she’s talking about the library’s homeless patrons or a day she spent signing them up for its outreach program ... Even worse is the self-indulgent segment where she writes about wanting to burn a book to experience a bit of Central Library’s historic fire ... Luckily part of the charm of a library, or an Orlean book, is that one might come looking for one thing and find something very different yet still enjoyable. B.
The Library Book is also a love letter of sorts to libraries and reading ... Orlean makes such delights palpable and sensory, much as she captures the tragedy of a building full of books going up in flames. She provides a brief history of organized book burnings, going back to 213 B.C., when the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to burn any history book that contradicted his version of the past ... If you pick up The Library Book, whether you buy it or check it out at your local branch, chances are you're deeply invested in the subject, and that you'll tell a like-minded friend or two. But this isn't just a testament to the world of books. The Library Book is a great read in and of itself.
... enthralling and inspirational ... Orlean moves smoothly between dealing with the fire and its aftermath, the life of the resurrected library today, and its foundation and subsequent history. Interesting facts leap out from virtually every page ... Orlean’s history of the library... throws up a plethora of unlikely but vivid characters ... Above all, this excellent book is an unashamed love letter to the public library system ... In this fine and heartfelt saga, [Orlean] repays a lifelong debt with both passion and elegance.
The Library Book, like the city in which it is set, does sprawl, but in the best possible way, touching on everything from the politics of book burning to the physics of combustion to the future of brick-and-mortar libraries in a digital world. [Orlean] never fully resolves the mystery behind the arson, or whether Harry Peak did or did not commit it. Yet she does uncover many other stories along the way ... If the The Library Book does not draw conclusions about Peak or the Central Library fire, what makes it compelling is that, while it is ostensibly a book about ambition, desperation, and loss, it is also about a city and a public institution teeming with life, humor, and wild personalities.
... [a] loving encomium to libraries everywhere ... achieves on paper what Wiseman does on film: by acquainting the reader with the library’s actual infrastructure, she reveals why it is such a valuable community resource and a perfect example of what Klinenberg is talking about when he extols the benefits of social infrastructure.
As personal narrative, The Library Book offers a frisson of delight to every four-eyed haunter of the stacks ... As whodunit, Ms. Orlean’s account is less satisfying... Ms. Orlean delves into recent research on arson forensics, a pseudoscience long on certainties and short on evidence ... The Library Book is, in the end, a Whitmanesque yawp, bringing to life a place and an institution that represents the very best of America: capacious, chaotic, tolerant and even hopeful, with faith in mobility of every kind, even, or perhaps especially, in the face of adversity.
The Library Book is a sheer delight ... The most enjoyable part of the book surrounds the Los Angeles library system's feminist beginnings, several chief librarians having been women ... Orlean has created a book as rich in insight and as varied as the treasures contained on the shelves in any local library.
Much of [Orlean's] book is concerned not with the quaintness of the past... but with the urgencies of modern life ... In the end, Orlean produces modern forensic testimony that suggests the Llibrary fire could just as easily have been caused by bad wiring or a sneaky cigarette. In a less assured telling this might come over as an anticlimax, a dull narrative thud. For Orlean, though, there is something about this open-endedness... that fits exactly with the endlessly generative possibilities of a much-loved public library.
...a loving homage to libraries everywhere ... She’s a droll storyteller eager to show the human face of the library ... At times, Orlean’s ever-shifting focus gives the book the feel of a random hodgepodge. And sometimes it’s downright silly ... The writing, however is unfailingly fine.
The Library Book is a book for every reader and every writer. It’s a masterful tribute to libraries, and, even better, it has a plot and a storyline ... A few years ago, at a sorry moment for public institutions, I decided to give money to the branch libraries of the New York Public Library. Libraries have never hurt anyone, I thought. Finishing The Library Book, I’ll double my donation.
...an ode to books, to libraries and to public spaces; it is immersion journalism at its best. Orlean is a master of narrative non-fiction ... it portrays the fascinating history of a growing community and its library; it is a personal, observing account of the author’s love of books and her lifelong library visits; and it is a captivating true-crime narrative, trying to untangle the mystery of what (or who) caused the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library.