The Library Book by Susan Orlean #bookreview #nonfiction #history #crime

Title: The Library Book

Author: Susan Orlean

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Page Count: 336

My rating: 3 1/2 stars

About the book:

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.


How can a lover of books resist a book about books? Such was my own dilemma with The Library Book by Susan Orlean. This one is a bit out of my normal go to reads being that it is non-fiction but occasionally I can’t resist when the book is about something that interests me and this one fit the bill wonderfully.

The bones of the story in The Library Book is centered around the biggest fire to ever hit a library that happened on April 29, 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library. But along with learning what happened that day and the investigation afterward Susan Orlean has peppered this story with all kinds of facts about reading, libraries and books all throughout the book.

Now, for me I was a tad disappointed that the story took such a meandering path around the actual fire and crime. I’m one that wants results rather quickly and wanted to know more about that fateful day with each trip somewhere else. But then again on the other hand I also began to appreciate just how much the author put into this book to cover so much other information. I think this may be a book that I will pick back up and browse through at a slower pace sometime to try to soak in more of the knowledge within but at the moment I’m rating this one at 3.5 stars simply because it’s not as an engaging read as a thriller or fantasy to me but I do think non-fiction lovers will appreciate this one.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Find this book online: 

Goodreads  /   Amazon

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 TinSaturday 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 and



Categories: Uncategorized

18 replies

  1. Hmmm, there is a lot that I think I would love in this book. I am not a big non-fiction reader, but I have to agree with you about reading about something I love. It almost sounds like two books in one. Great review Carrie.

    Liked by 1 person

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