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The Library Book (Hardcover)
Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Susan Orlean, hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post and the acclaimed bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin and The Orchid Thief, reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—our libraries.
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 false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.” The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?
Weaving her life-long love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes-eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean presents a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling story as only she can. With her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, she investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. To truly understand what happens behind the stacks, Orlean visits the different departments of the LAPL, encountering an engaging cast of employees and patrons and experiencing alongside them the victories and struggles they face in today’s climate. She also delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from a metropolitan charitable initiative to a cornerstone of national identity. She reflects on her childhood experiences in libraries; studies arson and the long history of library fires; attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and she re-examines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library over thirty years ago. Along the way, she reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books—and that they are needed now more than ever.
Filled with heart, passion, and unforgettable characters, The Library Book is classic Susan Orlean, and an homage to a beloved institution that remains a vital part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country and culture.
About the Author
Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award–winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York and may be reached at SusanOrlean.com and Twitter.com/SusanOrlean.
“Mesmerizing . . . A riveting mix of true crime, history, biography, and immersion journalism. . . . 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.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Engaging . . . Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.”
“Of course, I will always read anything that Susan Orlean writes—and I would encourage you to do the same, regardless of the topic, because she’s always brilliant. But The Library Book is a particularly beautiful and soul-expanding book—even by Orleanean standards. You’re going to hear a lot about how important this story is, for shining a spotlight on libraries and the heroic people who run them. That’s all true, but there’s an even better reason to read it—because it will keep you spellbound from first page to last. Don’t miss out on this one, people!" —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic
“This is a book only Susan Orlean could have written. Somehow she manages to transform the story of a library fire into the story of literacy, civil service, municipal infighting and vision, public spaces in an era of increasingly privatization and social isolation, the transformation of Los Angeles from small provincial hamlet to innovative collossus and model of civic engagement—and the central role libraries have always and will always play in the life and health of a bustling democracy. Beyond all that, like any good library, it’s bursting with incredible tales and characters. There could be no better book for the bookish.”
—Dave Eggers, author of The Circle and The Monk of Mokha
“Susan Orlean has long been one of our finest storytellers, and she proves it again with The Library Book. A beautifully written and richly reported account, it sheds new light on a thirty-year-old mystery—and, what’s more, offers a moving tribute to the invaluableness of libraries.”
—David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
“After reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, I’m quite sure I’ll never look at libraries, or librarians, the same way again. This is classic Orlean—an exploration of a devastating fire becomes a journey through a world of infinite richness, populated with unexpected characters doing unexpected things, with unexpected passion.”
—Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, and Dead Wake
Praise for Rin Tin Tin
“Fascinating . . . The sweeping story of the soulful German shepherd who was born on the battlefields of World War I, immigrated to America, conquered Hollywood, struggled in the transition to the talkies, helped mobilize thousands of dog volunteers against Hitler and himself emerged victorious as the perfect family-friendly icon of cold war gunslinging, thanks to the new medium of television. . . . Do dogs deserve biographies? In Rin Tin Tin Susan Orlean answers that question resoundingly in the affirmative . . . By the end of this expertly told tale, she may persuade even the most hardened skeptic that Rin Tin Tin belongs on Mount Rushmore with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least somewhere nearby with John Wayne and Seabiscuit.”
—Jennifer Schuessler, front cover of The New York Times Book Review
“Remarkable . . . Orlean’s pursuit of detail is mind-boggling. . . . The book is less about a dog than the prototypes he embodied and the people who surrounded him. It is about story-making itself, about devotion, luck and heroes. . . . Ultimately, the reader is left well nourished and in awe of both Orlean’s reportorial devotion and at her magpie ability to find the tiniest sparkling detail."
—Alexandra Horowitz, San Francisco Chronicle
“Deeply moving . . . An unforgettable book about the mutual devotion between one man and one dog.”
—Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal
“Dazzling . . . Susan Orlean has fashioned a masterpiece of reporting and storytelling, some of it quite personal and all of it compelling. Animal-related books have always peppered best-seller lists—Seabiscuit comes quickly to mind—and this one will top such lists. It deserves to, and also to work its way into millions of hearts and minds. . . . [Carl] Sandburg called Rin Tin Tin ‘thrillingly intelligent’ and ‘phenomenal.’ The same can be said for this remarkable book. . . . Spectacular.”
“Epic . . . Heartfelt . . . An enormously satisfying story about a dog and the man who believed in him.”
—Carol Memmott, USA Today
“Stunning . . . A book so moving it melted the heart of at least this one dogged Lassie lover . . . Don’t let the book’s title fool you. Calling Rin Tin Tin the story of a dog is like calling Moby-Dick the story of a whale. Orlean surfs the tide of time, pushing off in the 1900s and landing in the now, delivering a witty synopsis of nearly a century of Rin Tin Tins and American popular culture. The result is a truly exceptional book that marries historical journalism, memoir, and the technique of character-driven, psychologically astute, finely crafted fiction: a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.”
—Meredith Maran, The Boston Globe
“It's a story of magnificent obsession. Nearly a decade in the making, combining worldwide research with personal connection, it offers the kind of satisfactions you only get when an impeccable writer gets hold of one heck of a story. . . . Deft . . . Insightful . . . Fascinating.”
—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
“Susan Orlean has written a book about how an orphaned dog became part of millions of households, and hearts, in a way that may reveal the changing bonds between humans and animals, too. . . . One of the many pleasures of this book is the historical breadth of the story.”
—Scott Simon, NPR’s Weekend Edition
“Brilliant . . . Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, earned considerable critical praise for her 1998 book The Orchid Thief. But if there were any book she was born to write, it's this one. The product of years of dogged research, it's her magnum opus, a work filled with fascinating stories . . . [and] stunning prose that is both compassionate and perceptive.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR
“Engrossing . . . Delightful . . . Olean finds much more to the story than a man and his dog . . . . Its heart lies in her exploration of how a dog could come to embody the ideal of heroic devotion and, eventually, exist as an icon outside the boundaries of time.”
—Douglass K. Daniel, The Associated Press