We know that today, libraries do not just house books, but they provide so much more to their community. In April 1986 a suspicious fire started at the Los Angeles Public Library and destroyed over 400,000 books and countless irreplaceable historical materials.

Some of the lost relics included a cherished collection of maps, sheet music, plays and first editions of rare books. Hundreds of thousands of books were damaged by smoke and water and the people of the city were distraught over the tragedy. A suspect, Harry Peak, was charged with arson, but the legal team had little definitive evidence and over time the case fizzled.

In The Library Book, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author, Susan Orlean takes us through this horrific event that shocks the city and changes many of the employees and volunteers forever.  

Based on extensive research, Orlean also provides information leading up to the development of the Los Angeles library. The library’s collection, departments and finally the rebuilding process after the fire unfolds in a compelling, storytelling fashion.  

Susan Orlean enlightens us with facts, anecdotes and eye-opening information that forms the unique history of the Los Angeles Public Library and all libraries worldwide. Readers will learn the special measures taken for salvaging books, such as saving those who suffered from water damage by freezing them for two years in lockers owned by local merchants to prevent the growth of mold spores.

Other dynamic and engrossing aspects of this story include the ongoing and arduous investigation of Harry Peak, the help desk that answered every question imaginable before Google existed, and finally the importance of the education and support programs developed for immigrants, the homeless and all the people of the city. Needless to say, I learned quite a bit and thoroughly enjoyed this moving book!

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Image courtesy of Amazon

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.