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Susan Orlean, On “The Library Book” @ Politics & Prose

Susan Orlean discusses “The Library Book” at Politics and Prose on 10/25/18.

At once a mystery, a cultural history, and a deeply personal love letter to reading, Orlean’s compelling new book starts with a disaster. On April 29, 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library went up in flames. The worst library fire in American history, the blaze destroyed more than 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000. It lasted for more than seven hours and temperatures reached 2,000 degrees. Over thirty years later, the cause of the fire is still unknown. Adding her own investigation to existing theories, Orlean, a New Yorker staff writer since 1992 and the author of The Orchid Thief, profiles the library’s staff and patrons, looks at the global history of libraries and the challenges these institutions face today, and irrefutably demonstrates the national and personal value of these truly public places.

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 and

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