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Diving into the mystery and significance of the LA Public Library fire 30 years later

Journalist Susan Orlean attends the Panel & Tribeca Talks:
Journalist Susan Orlean attends the Panel & Tribeca Talks: "Pen To Paper" during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival at Barnes & Noble Tribeca on April 26, 2010 in New York City.
Michael Loccisano

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"The Library Book" by Susan Orlean

The morning of April 26, 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library caught fire, destroying or damaging more than a million books and causing the LAPL to close its doors for seven years.

Though there were no injuries, it was the largest library fire in American history — a significance that was greatly diminished by its proximity in time to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The source of the fire was never conclusively determined, but it’s presumed to be arson with an unlikely main suspect: Harry Peak, a handsome drifter and aspiring actor.

In “The Library Book,” journalist and author Susan Orlean dives into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, the details of the fire and the remaining mystery surrounding its cause and the primary suspect. She joins Larry to discuss her book and the fire’s place in L.A.’s history.

Susan Orlean will be talking about “The Library Book” tomorrow, Tuesday, October 16, at the Los Angeles Public Library. The event starts at 7:30pm.

She’ll be at the Buena Vista Branch Library, part of the Burbank Public Library system, on Thursday, November 1. That event starts at 7:00pm.


Susan Orlean, author of many books, including her newest, “The Library Book” (Simon & Schuster, 2018); staff writer at “The New Yorker” since 1992