Deft, zesty social history.

BEHIND THE THRONE

A DOMESTIC HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ROYAL HOUSEHOLD

From bedchambers to ballrooms, a revealing portrait of daily life among the royals.

Steeped in British history, Tinniswood (History/Univ. of Buckingham; The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 2016, etc.) offers an intimate and entertaining look at the private lives of monarchs from Elizabeth I to the current occupants of Buckingham Palace. Funded grandly by their subjects, kings, queens, and their families have always inhabited “a cocoon of support to ease their paths through life”: cooks, dressers, housekeepers, valets, wet-nurses and governesses, pages, footmen, gardeners, butlers, secretaries, and a hierarchy of staff overseers. “The rituals of royal care,” Tinniswood writes, “are there to separate sovereigns from the rest, to remind their subjects that they are not like other people, not even presidents and billionaire executives.” In centuries past, body servants included a bedchamber-woman who handed the queen her fan, poured water out of a jug when the queen washed her hands, and pulled on the queen’s gloves; a page was called in to put on the queen’s shoes. Some 1,200 employees attend to the household of Elizabeth II; her great-great-grandmother Victoria had 921 salaried retainers. Royals were rarely alone. Charles II, annoyed that Whitehall palace was “cluttered with people,” devised a set of household ordinances to control the throngs. Royal palaces, the author asserts, were not “like some regal version of Downtown Abbey”; Whitehall, particularly, “was more like a vast apartment complex” with around 1,500 lodgings for countless servants, government staff, menials (who slept in closets), and squatters. Tinniswood cheerfully chronicles the flirtations, affairs, family squabbles, back-stabbing, and jockeying for favor that characterized the royal courts, even giving pets a quick nod. George V, for example, doted on Charlotte, a parrot who had the habit of defecating on the tablecloth. The author also recounts the madness of George III, whose “weeping, insomnia, and feverish agitation” may have been caused by acute attacks of porphyria or, as recent historians suggest, “recurring bouts of manic-depressive psychosis.” Some sovereigns, the author admits, “are more interesting than others.”

Deft, zesty social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09402-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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