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Publisher's Summary

Susan Orlean, hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post and the acclaimed best-selling 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 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 good-bye, 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 more than 30 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 with the fascinating history of libraries and the sometimes eccentric characters who run them, award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling 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 fire and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library more than 30 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.

©2018 Susan Orlean (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Clovis
  • 2018-12-17

Sharing the magic of the Los Angeles Library and all libraries

While focusing on the unsolved mystery of how the horrific fire in the Los Angeles Public Library of 1986 started, Orlean skillfully weaves in information about the early and later history of the library and the value of public libraries in general.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Linda Longhand
  • 2019-01-08

Admirable effort

I love libraries. I've written about libraries and I know it can be a challenge to write, so I admire Susan Orlean's effort. But I found it myself tapping my foot in irritation. Too many numbers, not enough story. And I'm sorry to say her reader's voice was just as grating. The book did, however, remind me of the days when public buildings were magnificent.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • G Goodwin
  • 2018-12-10

Love Letter to Libraries

Such a worthwhile read.
Good storyteller
Quirky and interesting characters
Uplifting and hopeful
Highly recommend
I listened at 1.25 speed and that was just right.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • P.
  • 2018-12-10

Beautiful paean to life, libraries and librarians

I am a librarian, and this book means the world to me in giving a real and deep perspective to who we are, why we love our careers and what libraries mean to the world, but particularly to a free and open democratic republic. Susan Orlean, Thank you! Your mother should be delighted.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Kevin Farrell
  • 2018-11-12

Excellent Book and Performance!

Occasionally got tired of hearing Dewey Decimal numbers at chapter headings but it does provide clues to what’s ahead... good but a bit gimmicky. The writing is wonderfully descriptive of people and places, as she has done before. A book lover’s treat but much more: urban history (and myth); LA’s light and darks sides; a lesson in sociopathology. Enjoy.

19 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Louise Houston
  • 2019-01-12

Confused

Not sure why book titles and filing numbers preceded each chapter. Not a good book for audio. Better to read in paper ore book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Bert
  • 2019-01-07

New narrator needed

Ms Orlean wrote an interesting book but should have chosen someone else to read it.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Cliente de Kindle
  • 2019-01-05

I couldn’t take the narration!

I usually get all of the Reese Witherspoon’s book picks on Audible, but this one was unlistenable. The narrator is horrible and I could not focus on the story. I will have to pick up an actual copy of the book and read it myself. So I can’t say whether the book was good or not, I can only comment on the narrator.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Teddy
  • 2018-12-16

even better than I expwcred.

I really appreciate when authors read their own work; sometimes ...they don't live up to my expectations. it took me a few paragraphs to settle in with her, but ultimately I liked her performance. really l9ked it.
I also like authors making use of vocabulary and she was terrific on this point.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • DFK
  • 2019-01-04

Interesting, but all over the place

I decided to listen to this book based on the review and added mentions (New and Noteworthy, and the best seller sidebar) in The New York Times Book Review. I love books and I love libraries, and it seemed like I’d enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but found it not as great as I expected given what was written about it. The main thrust was, apparently, the fire in the LA library, but this theme was used as a way to detour back and forth to the history of the LA library, library functions, and go off on tangential topics like political book burnings. All the material was interesting, and clearly researched well, but it was really all over the place. I found the constant jumping around in time - early history of the library, the fire and the salvage, recent history of the library, homeless people in the library, book burnings, etc. - to have no reasonable organization. Given that one of the characteristics of libraries - and this is described in the book too - is organization and cataloguing, this book in some ways was not in character. It was almost a book written by a process of free association. The author’s reading of her own work was adequate, but nothing outstanding. I found it a bit slow and moved to the 1.25 speed, something I rarely do, but it was an improvement.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful