Book Review: The Library Book – Susan Orlean

Title: The Library Book
Author: Susan Orlean
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication date: Out now


After moving to Los Angeles, Susan Orlean became fascinated by a mysterious local crime that has gone unsolved since it was carried out on the morning of 29 April 1986: who set fire to the Los Angeles Public Library, ultimately destroying more than 400,00 books, and perhaps even more perplexing, why?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading with the fascinating history of libraries, Susan Orlean investigates the legendary fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. She also 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 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 culture.

Taken from The Library Book


As a bibliophile (someone who loves books), there are two things that make me extremely happy: books about books, and libraries. And books about libraries. OK, three things. But you get the point. So when I was offered the opportunity to receive an advance copy of The Library Book, I was just a little bit excited.

Before I read this book, I wasn’t even aware of the fire at Los Angeles Public Library, nevermind the controversy around it and the role of Harry Peak, the man stood accused of arson. Orlean’s book is a fascinating insight into the fire, Peak’s life, and the life of those who use public libraries.

An element of the book I found entirely fascinating is the role of women in libraries. Historically, librarians were predominantly men, and women faced deplorable treatment, including those who were relieved of their jobs purely on the basis of their gender.

Orlean’s book, in my opinion, has one key message to which we all need to pay attention. Libraries are vital resources for the community. They are one of the few places left in this Capitalist world where you can go and not be expected to spend any money (well, except fines!).

Libraries are for anyone and everyone. They make no judgments and have no interest in whether you are young or old, rich or poor. We have a duty to protect these establishments, to ensure people continue to be able to have places where they can seek advice, education, friendship, and community.

A meticulously researched book, you will not regret picking this one up. Maybe consider borrowing it from your local library?

Thank you to Atlantic Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

About the author

Susan Orlean is a writer at The New Yorker and also the author of The Orchid Thief. You can find Susan on Twitter. (Image
© Susan Orlean)

Order now

You can order this wonderful book from your local indie bookshop or by purchasing through Or you could just ask your local library!

Please consider supporting your local bookshops and independent publishers by purchasing directly from them.

Comment below

Have you read The Library Book? Planning on reading it? Let me know in the comments below!

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