A strong complement to the work of William Cronon, Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick and other modern historians of...



Forget rugged individualism: corporations owned the Old West, agribusiness dominated the 19th-century landscape, and speculators looted the public trust.

So writes environmental historian Isenberg (History/Temple Univ.; The Destruction of the Bison, 2000), observing that the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 did little to prevent the West from being carved into resource-extractive estates. In this setting, California suffered “enclosure,” much as the highlands of Scotland had; Indians were pushed aside, valuable properties appropriated and the government molded to benefit the largeholders. In Northern California, the driving forces were not only agricultural interests, but also companies devoted to removing ore and timber. They prospered, while their workers and tenants suffered; as Isenberg points out, for example, the miners who worked the first wave of the Gold Rush were earning $20 a day in 1848, but only $3 a day in 1856 (and that second number, he notes, “represents only the wages of those who earned enough in the gold country to remain there”). One cause was the replacement of labor-intensive forms of extraction with machinery; on the American River, placer mining technology took the place of humans, and soon whole mountains were washed into the San Francisco Bay. Timber companies removed huge quantities of redwood trees, once they had overcome an odd problem: at first, the things were too big to cut and transport. In Southern California, the land was similarly damaged, but this time owing to cattle overgrazing, an economy that failed to make anyone particularly wealthy. Yet these very instruments of degradation and extraction spurred Californians to set pace for the nation in establishing environmental laws and conservation organizations; “much of the agenda of the wilderness movement,” Isenberg writes, can be seen as a “reaction to or a negation of the most prominent forms of industrial resource exploitation in the nineteenth-century West.”

A strong complement to the work of William Cronon, Richard White, Patricia Nelson Limerick and other modern historians of the American West.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8090-9535-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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