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The Library Book

Unabridged Audiobook

Written By: Susan Orlean

Narrated By: Susan Orlean

Date: October 2018

Duration: 12 hours 9 minutes




“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 Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling 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 Book is 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.


  • Anonymous

    I tried to get into this book. After listening for over two hours, I just could not do it. very boring subject matter and bland narration.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Susan K.

    Reader was horrible.

  • Donna I.

    Since I work in a library perhaps I liked this more than most, but it is a really good book about libraries in general and the LA library in particular.

  • LOLA S.

    This is a story to listen quietly. It is plenty of data about the goal a library has in the soul of a city. The plot is an excuse to examine the rol that this ordinary institution plays in a democratic country far more than lending books to people and giving the students room to study for exams. It made me think a lot about some aspects that I hadn't even imagined, for instance the ideas of community, free interchange and shelter for the disfavored people. Awesome narrative, slow pacing trying not miss anything and prominent data treatment.

  • Kelly G.

    I’m a librarian and I thought this book was extremely tedious. I gave up with four hours to go.

  • Damon P.

    Good story and well read. I found it interesting how she used the library fire as the hub of the wheel and the spokes as histories that were related to the library. It is a good read well worth the time.

  • Barb S.

    Very slow beginning but well worth the patience! I love non-fiction ! This specific one has beautiful language. I love the weave of a detective mindset! My husband and I both recommend this great book!

  • Jennifer J.

    This book was like a love story to your local library. Susan Orlean begins her book discussing a tragic fire that decimated the LA Central Library. What follows is a prolific history of the library and its role in the diverse and changing LA landscape.

  • Kimberly M.

    My first book from Reese Witherspoon’s book club. This was so far less dull than I imagined! Really enjoyed it. I miss it!! I carried me through quite a few plane rides.

  • Mary R.

    Interesting history of librarians.

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by Susan Orlean

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Library Book, Susan Orlean
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