An intelligent, thoughtfully researched memoir.



A British nonfiction writer and critic explores the story of her family’s past and its place within the larger narrative of 19th- and 20th-century British history.

Light (Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury, 2008) began the quest to discover her roots when her father was ill with cancer. With one parent’s death imminent, the author became alarmingly aware of both the passage of time and her own ignorance about a family past that had left few tangible traces. She began her research with visits to parish registers and other local and national archives. As Light became acquainted with her ancestors, she also sought to contextualize their lives. The more data she acquired, the more she realized that “without local history to anchor it, family history is adrift in time.” The picture that emerged on both sides of her family tree was of working-class men and women whose migrations across England had been “shaped and limited” by the Industrial Revolution. Light’s forebears—most of whom worked as bricklayers, needle-makers, servants, farmers, and sailors—were among the most impoverished in Britain. Yet some branches of her father’s family, for example, managed, through a combination of fortunate personal choices and historical timing, to rise into the middle classes and prosper as businessmen and respected members of the clergy. Light’s research also led to the discovery of secrets hidden within family tall tales that masked the realities of shame and failure. One of the most dramatic involved a great-grandmother who was “born in the workhouse; died in a madhouse.” A product of impoverished circumstances she could not control, this ancestor’s life also told a story of some of the policies and practices—such as the British Poor Laws—that defined English society at the time. Light’s book not only offers an insightful account of her proverbial “travels through time.” It also provides a new, more historically nuanced way of thinking about family history.

An intelligent, thoughtfully researched memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-226-33094-5

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?