‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean documents the devastating fire that raged for seven hours at Los Angeles Public Library in April 1986 and destroyed or damaged over one million books. Investigators quickly concluded that the fire was probably an arson attack but the cause has never been solved and the main suspect, Harry Peak, was arrested but never charged.
The fire broke out just as the news about the Chernobyl disaster became known around the world. Interestingly, while publications such as Pravda remained silent about the worst nuclear accident in history, it found space to cover the Los Angeles library fire in some detail, whereas Chernobyl dominated media coverage across the rest of the world and the fire was overlooked and forgotten relatively quickly. Orlean’s book will hopefully bring this episode to light for a new audience of those like me who had never heard about it before.