The Robbins controversy featured arguments about alien rights, asylum, national identity, and the meaning and scope of...




A historian revisits a little-remembered incident, the murderous 1797 mutiny aboard HMS Hermione, and traces its startling ramifications.

Against the backdrop of revolutions worldwide, the Royal Navy vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of an “unprecedented barbarity.” Apprehended in Charleston, South Carolina, Jonathan Robbins, a ringleader in Hermione’s bloody business, was surrendered to the Royal Navy at the urging of Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, with the agreement of President John Adams and the grudging acquiescence of a federal judge. Subsequently hanged, Robbins became among the more unlikely martyrs in American history. A wedge issue avant la lettre, the extradition and execution of Robbins heightened the differences between the Republicans and Federalists in the 1800 presidential election, helped expose divisions within the Federalist Party itself, and perhaps accounted for Thomas Jefferson’s razor-thin margin of victory. Was Robbins, as supporters claimed, a Connecticut native, conscripted aboard a marauding British frigate captained by a despot? Robbins struck a blow for liberty, Republicans insisted, and then was denied due process and a jury trial. Or was he, as Federalists argued, really Irish, a British subject whose monstrous crimes required his surrender under the terms of the pertinent, if highly controversial, Jay Treaty of 1795? Ekirch (History/Virginia Tech; Birthright: The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped, 2010, etc.) covers the mutiny in all its drunken, gory excess, tracks the worldwide hunt and capture of some of the perpetrators, and then offers a masterful dissection of the political consequences of the Robbins affair. The author is especially good on how the debate played out in the pages of the era’s highly partisan press. Careful to remind us that other issues figured prominently and contributed mightily to the vitriolic 1800 campaign, Ekirch nevertheless persuasively argues that “the ghost of Robbins” likely tipped the balance in Pennsylvania and New York.

The Robbins controversy featured arguments about alien rights, asylum, national identity, and the meaning and scope of American citizenship, all of which persist and all of which Ekirch handles with remarkable dexterity.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-37990-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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