Staff Favorites

Robert S. Wistrich
Reviewed by Nathan
Hitler and the Holocaust

Few events in history are as difficult to understand as the Holocaust. Debates over how and why it happened continue to rage in academic circles, to say nothing of the vast amount of fiction the topic has produced in film and literature. Robert Wistrich’s Hitler and the Holocaust is an admirable attempt at writing a concise and accessible introduction to this immensely challenging subject.

Wistrich’s approach is straightforward and chronological. It covers Hitler’s rise to power, early anti-Semitic legislation, the beginnings of World War II, Nazi collaborators, Jewish resistance, and the camps themselves. Wistrich focuses much of the book on the role of anti-Semitism in producing the Holocaust, reminding us that regardless of how historians choose to interpret the Holocaust or its meaning, it could not have happened without anti-Semitism, the war, and the personality of Hitler himself. Wistrich also neatly summarizes and adds to other historical topics, like the role of bureaucracy and modernity in the Holocaust.

Few books are as concise and as informative as Hitler and the Holocaust. Historical scholarship, in an attempt to explain an extremely complicated subject, has gotten increasingly specialized, so a good overview that attempts to be comprehensive and interesting to non-historians is important. At providing such an overview, Wistrich succeeds brilliantly.

Stephen King and Peter Straub
Reviewed by Nathan
The Talisman

The Talisman is the first collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub. It features the tale of a 12 year old boy named Jack Sawyer on a quest to retrieve a magical artifact known as the talisman, which has the power to save Jack’s terminally ill mother. The problem is Jack has to travel through another world (known as the Territories) in order to reach the talisman, and is pursued by his father’s business partner, Morgan Sloat, who wants the talisman for his own purposes.

While The Talisman is much more of a work of adventure fantasy than horror, it should come as no surprise that there are horror elements present. Jack encounters all sorts of monsters (both human and non) during his travels and his best friend for much of the novel is a werewolf simply named Wolf. Meeting Wolf is in many ways the turning point of the novel; before Wolf it seems as though Jack is just kind of wandering from place to place as he makes his way towards the talisman, after meeting Wolf the story takes a darker, more suspenseful turn, especially as Wolf does what werewolves tend to do.

The Talisman has some minor flaws. It takes a while to get going, at least until Jack meets Wolf. Jack is likable enough as the main protagonist, but doesn’t feel as fully fleshed out as many of the other characters, particularly Wolf and Jack’s other main travelling partner, Richard Sloat. While this may not be a reasonable complaint, The Talisman pales in comparison to what each author is capable of individually; King’s Dark Tower series is a classic, as is Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.

Still, those looking for a good fantasy book should check out The Talisman. It’s world-building, character development, and story make it a consistently enjoyable book.

The Princess Bride
Donna D.'s picture
Reviewed by Donna D.
The Princess Bride

Originally debuting in 1987, The Princess Bride is a timeless classic that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Featuring such stars as Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, and André the Giant, this film tells the tale of Princess Buttercup, a beautiful young woman engaged to the feared and loathed Prince Humperdinck.  One evening, in an attempt to find peace from her chaotic life, she takes a horseback ride in the woods. Along the way, she is kidnapped by a trio of criminals. In close pursuit, however, is Buttercup’s rescuer. But who is this masked hero? Watch as epic sword fights, puzzles of wit, and tales of revenge play out in this must-see movie. Request it through the SWAN catalog today!

Italian Cinema
Danielle's picture
Reviewed by Danielle

In The Bicycle Thieves and Cinema Paradiso, we are transported into the lives of two boys in post-WWII Italy as they encounter the many frailties and strengths inherent to a country and a people who have suffered so much. We see hope and we see despair. We see dreams of futures that might never happen. We see resignation and we see passion. Ultimately, we see life through the eyes of Bruno and Toto as their childlike innocence begins to come to terms with the emerging realties of a world trying to right itself after a devastating storm and the role human love and resilience can play in such a story.

The Bicycle Thieves tells the simple story of a stolen bicycle and the repercussions it has in the life of the poorest of families. Bruno and his father try to find the bicyle while walking the beautifully filmed streets of Rome and, in doing so, we see the cycle of poverty and crime and hopelessness possibly perpetuated into yet another generation. Bruno's eyes hold the despair of youth at the very moment hope starts to fade, where the heroes lose their shine and where reality supplants the unquestioned trust that what is right and wrong is always a simple choice. A simple story with modern-day resonance.

In Cinema Paradiso, we have a more hopeful but deeper story of a lifetime of hopes and dreams played out through a love of movies and ultimately broadcast in the loving and self-sacrificing actions of one man, Alfredo. Toto (Salvatore), is a boy in love with movies, a young man in love with Elena and an older man who is jaded by the loss of both. The movie starts with a young, precocious and rather precious Toto as he discovers his love of movies at the side of Alfredo, the town projectionist. Anyone who loves movies will recognize the joy in the face of little Toto as the lights dim and the movies come to life. This love, both for the movies and for Alfredo, will color Toto's existence for the rest of his life. This is a story of following one's passions, no matter what the cost even when you don't know you are paying those costs. It is also a beautiful meditation of the sacrifices born of deep love. A touching movie going experience not to be missed by anyone who loves movies or just loves in general.