The Library Book

The Library Book

Book - 2018
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"A constant pleasure to read...Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book ." -- The Washington Post

"CAPTIVATING...DELIGHTFUL." -- Christian Science Monitor * "EXQUISITELY WRITTEN, CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING." -- The New York Times * "MESMERIZING...RIVETING." -- Booklist (starred review)

A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution--and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries--from the bestselling author hailed as a "national treasure" by The Washington Post .

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out 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: 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--and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book , 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.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean's thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books--and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist's reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.
Publisher: New York : Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476740188
Branch Call Number: 027.4794 ORLEAN S
Characteristics: 317 pages : illustraions ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

LPL_DirectorBrad Sep 11, 2018

This book took me back to my days working at Los Angeles Public Library. What starts out as an investigation into whether the massive 1986 fire at the Central Library was arson, Orlean takes that initial story and branches out into multiple stories about LAPL--the fire and the psychological damag... Read More »

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Mar 21, 2019

This book is only tangentially about the LA Central library fire and the suspect that was questioned. It is not a 'true crime" book by a long shot.

I haven't read any other of Orlean's books but at least this one seemed to be all over the place. She couldn't decide if it wanted to be about libraries overall and their current iterations, the LA library system and its history, or something more personal about her relationship with libraries. The descriptions of each of the people and places discussed were a bit too flowery for my taste.

It would have been more enjoyable if it were more focused on the fire itself, the LA library system and its history or the history of libraries and their current formats.

That being said, I really enjoyed the portion that was the history of the LA library system, and felt dissatisfied by the conclusion that was made on the library fire and its perpetrator. Those sections were almost worth sitting through the rest of her personal histories and overall state of the library field, including the trip to ALA in Chicago. Almost.

Mar 19, 2019

The devastating library fire and the search for an arsonist is just the starting point for author Susan Orlean. This wide-ranging book considers the history of libraries, the future of libraries in the digital age, the social role of libraries in cities, and the processes for the restoration of fire- and water-damaged books. This reader would have appreciated an isometric, cut-away drawing of the Los Angeles Central Library in order to understand the location and path of the fire as described by Orlean (a picture is worth a thousand words). Occasionally, the author's comparisons seem off, for instance when she describes the impact of the heat of an L.A. afternoon as "like a blast from a water cannon" when "like a blast from a hair dryer" might be more apropos. The book ends with a bibliography.

Mar 18, 2019

I thought this book was absolutely terrific. Orlean details the fascinating history of of the Los Angeles public library, with the focus on the devestating fire of 1986. You get a profile of the primary suspect in that fire; a survey of all of the head librarians at the LA library up until that time; a history of the building; a fair amount about fires and in particular book burning; and a meditation on the future of libraries. And that is just some of the topics Orlean covers in this highly readible book. If you love libraries, it is a must read.

Mar 16, 2019

A hypnotically addictive page-turner. Absolutely loved it.

ontherideau Mar 02, 2019

Literary non fiction at it's finest. Very encouraging to read that libraries outnumber McDonalds in the USA.

Feb 21, 2019

If u like non fiction/ fiction this is great. Amazing statistics of the damage.

Feb 19, 2019

Anyone who has worked in a library will find much with which to commiserate and celebrate in this story of the Los Angeles Public Library - the colourful characters who founded and nourished it, oversaw its move into the current grand central library, and managing the devastating loss of thousands of books and other valuable items in the 1986 fire. After 30 years in public libraries, I often found myself nodding in recognition at the dilemmas, changes, and successes over the library's history. Even if you have never worked in a library, however, you will find much to enjoy in this tale of a little California city that grew exponentially over the last century - and the central library it spawned. I was especially impressed with Orlean's thorough research that brought depth, texture and nuance to this history of the city and the library - and certainly captured well the essence of what it means to work in a North American public library.

OPL_EllyR Feb 15, 2019

This book lived up to its pre-publication attention and then some. I can't say enough about how well the author balanced historical research across centuries with present-day interviews and research and a smattering of personal anecdotes. For me, non-fiction usually drags at some point, but I was absolutely engaged throughout this entire read. I listened to the audiobook format, and enjoyed hearing Orleans narrate her own work.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Feb 12, 2019

Readers who love books and libraries should check this book out (pun intended).

Feb 04, 2019

Really good, even if the author is kind of annoying.

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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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