The Library Book

The Library Book Summary



“A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” —The Washington Post


A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

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 fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty 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 into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorkerreporter and New York Timesbestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Bookis Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

Book Reviews


Meandering1 star

There were some interesting facts and descriptions of various librarians, but very little of the book is about the library fire. I think the author must’ve been paid by the word. The book meanders and begs editing.15

continual reader

The Library is4 star

I was shocked to learn that the fire happened on 9 11. I enjoyed the writing and history of this lovely old library and what it means to the community which is a microcosm of what libraries mean To communities historically and in the present day If you love libraries,you’ll love this book.45


Good Book About the Magic Of Libraries4 star

Part true-crime story and part history lesson. The library book is a great book if you love libraries. I was hoping for more true-crime but the history of the LA Public Library is the core of the book.45

Cool beans 121

Meh3 star

I chose The Library Book as my March read by an author I’ve not read before. I really liked the concept and was looking forward to the book. I enjoyed the history but the author seems to get stuck on the minute details which drag on and on. The story was good and interesting but probably could have been about half the size and still be meaningful.35


This is the best way for me to learn4 star

I just really want you honey you are so sweet and I really don’t want to go get back with you and I’ll go get you some things you need. I just can’t get it done with the way you want me to get yourself a good time you don’t have to go get your car I’ll go get you a car please let us have a good night and let me get you out of my car and get back home and get my truck back and get back home and let you have some good time to come get me some good morning love . I really wanted you to come back and help me with that I love you honey you have been a beautifully woman and I really appreciate your help pleasing me and you for always have a beautiful heart.. I love this app but it takes me some time to get it up there for me to get back to the new level of view45


Blolooll4 star



I’d love to get some of her5 star



Great Story5 star

I learned so much about a story that I never knew. I don’t remember hearing a single word about this fire. But this was a wonderful story that I truly enjoyed. Anyone who loves books and loves the library would love this story. Shout out to all librarians everywhere!55


An exploration of reminiscences that evokes the personal5 star

Orlean says she was moved to write this book by the Discovery that going to the library evoked memories of her mother and experiences she had visiting libraries with her mother. As she explored the meaning of libraries she shows they are places for the public exploration of ideas, not just book warehouses. I began the book with the personal expectation that libraries were a dying institution because of electronic publishing. Orlean demonstrates that in fact they are places for the public and private exploration of ideas and our culture and as such are more vital to our society than ever. I am a former collector of books who has now gravitated to the collection of ebooks. I would love to see Orlean do a book on publishing. This is the second of her books that I have read and I see that the thread she uses to hold them together is particular events and people that inspire her interest and curosity. Her thank yous and acknowledgements make it quite clear how much effort she puts into a book so I understand why she is reluctant to take on new projects. I am grateful she created this one.55


The Library Book4 star

Like a library, this book is filled with a number of different stories, most of them well told. It goes down like a cold drink on a warm day.45

Other Books by Susan Orlean

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