Rigorous and sophisticated.



Exciting history of 17th-century piracy among African city-states.

Prolific British historian Tinniswood (The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England, 2008, etc.) demonstrates an excellent grasp of obscure sources in crafting a comprehensive synthesis. He argues that the notorious, reviled “Barbary corsairs” have been historically misunderstood: “An underlying racism and a more overt anti-Islamism make it hard to imagine Captain Blood or Jack Sparrow as North African Muslims.” The author theorizes that piracy was state-supported and a key economic requirement for the development of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli (allied with the Ottoman Empire) and independent Morocco, and further was encouraged as a “sea-jihad,” an Islamic counterweight to European ambitions in the Mediterranean. While the British and other European powers belittled the Turks and Moors as savages, the situation was ethically muddied by their intermittent encouragement of privateering during various wars—these governments routinely issued “letters of marque” that essentially gave captains the right of piracy over ships flying enemy colors. Furthermore, both European and Barbary states routinely enslaved and ransomed captives; the specter of white slaves being held by African Muslims inflamed British society and contributed to numerous campaigns. Some of the European attempts blockade Barbary ports became comedies of error; others turned tragic or brutal, such as the French mortaring of Algiers. The pirates themselves were a diverse lot, especially following a 1612 amnesty. Many were British subjects who “turned Turk” (sometimes claiming coercion later when captured), while others were fearless Islamists who viewed attacking European ships as both good business and a strike against infidel encroachment (Tinniswood emphasizes the parallels with contemporary geopolitics only in the preface, regarding Somali piracy, but they are apparent.) This approach was epitomized by a 1631 raid on the Irish coastal town of Baltimore, which enslaved dozens. Throughout, the writing is precise and mordant but also witty, allowing the reader to feel empathy for the rough and absurd lives of these long-ago mariners, and agree with the author’s conclusion that whatever the corsairs’ faults, a lack of courage was not among them.

Rigorous and sophisticated.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-774-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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



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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