Essential reading for the historically minded in a time of ongoing struggle for civil rights.



Eminent Civil War historian Guelzo examines the many reasons the Reconstruction era, “the ugly duckling of American history,” ended in failure.

Reconstruction, the brainchild of Abraham Lincoln and carried out—or not—by successors Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, was meant to rebuild the rebellious Southern states and reincorporate them into the Union while altering their political structure to allow for the suffrage and citizens’ rights of former slaves. From 1865 to 1877, that federal project ground down before achieving its ambitions, though parts were put in place. As Guelzo (Director, Civil War Era Studies/Gettysburg Coll.; Redeeming the Great Emancipator, 2016, etc.) notes, there’s something in Reconstruction for nearly everyone to hate but also something powerful by way of an object lesson: Much of the South’s “Lost Cause” myth was born in the time, as a pointed morality tale in resisting a tyranny in which whites and not blacks were disenfranchised and the extraordinary levels of graft and corruption allowed do-gooders on all sides to point to the doomed effort with I-told-you-so smugness. For all that, Reconstruction had to grapple with large issues: Were the states formerly in rebellion still states? Who was responsible for paying Confederate debts? In the end, almost everyone concerned with the enterprise failed to press Reconstruction to its presumed end. Consequently, former slaveholders were restored to positions of power and influence that in turn subjected former slaves to peonage, which, as one former slave put it, “is not the condition of really freemen.” As seems so often the case in American history, African-Americans emerge the losers in Guelzo’s narrative. As he writes, it was not just property and economic freedom that fled them, but “what Southern blacks lost in wholesale amounts was political agency.” Thus the rise of Jim Crow laws and the spectacle, 150 years after the end of the war, of continued disenfranchisement and de facto segregation.

Essential reading for the historically minded in a time of ongoing struggle for civil rights.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-086569-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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