An incisive history of the futility of censorship.

LUST ON TRIAL

CENSORSHIP AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN OBSCENITY IN THE AGE OF ANTHONY COMSTOCK

The combative life of a man who “spread shame.”

For 40 years, Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) mounted a vigorous, often obsessive campaign, in the courts and in the press, to stamp out vice. For much of his notorious career, he was the sole arbiter of obscenity. Werbel (History of Art/Fashion Institute of Technology; Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia, 2007) offers a richly detailed examination of Comstock’s life and mission, which she presents as a cautionary tale for our own time, when evangelical Christianity seeks to impose its values on the nation. For Comstock and his supporters in the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, repressing sexuality was “the only solution to pressing social problems.” He opposed women’s empowerment, condemned abortions and the women who died from botched procedures, and viewed “child sex trafficking as largely the fault of the victims.” Fueled by religious zeal and supported by others who shared his Christian ideology, Comstock worked to initiate and expand state and federal anti-obscenity statutes that criminalized “anyone who facilitated the arousal of lust and sexual gratification other than for procreative purposes within marriage.” As Secretary of the NYSSV, he energetically ferreted out lust, collecting material from a wide range of sources, including publishers, artists, photographers, merchants, theatrical producers, brothels, men’s clubs, and art galleries. By 1876, he had sent to pulp mills more than 21,000 pounds of books and 202,000 images and photographs. For the bulk of the book, Werbel draws on Comstock’s three-volume “Records of Arrests,” his detailed chronicle of his “efforts to defeat Satan in America.” This material reveals the trajectory of Comstock’s influence and power, which plummeted after 1884, when artists, wealthy art collectors, and lawyers, judges, and juries thwarted him, questioning his credibility as a judge of “depravity.” He became a butt of jokes, skewered in derisive cartoons and criticized widely in the press.

An incisive history of the futility of censorship.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-17522-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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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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