A revealing look at the ancient past that speaks thoughtfully to the global-warming present.



An exploration of four far-flung ancient cities, each undone by climate and politics. An alternate title for this book might be A People’s History of Urbanism. Newitz is interested in how cities form, grow, and dissipate, and the author trains their focus on how everyday lives were affected by those processes. To do that, they select a quartet of once-mighty metropolises. Catalhoyuk, located in present-day Turkey 9,000 years ago, marked humanity’s uneasy shift from farming communities to a dense city until sustained cold and drought unraveled the place. Pompeii was famously obliterated by a volcanic eruption in 79 C.E., but before it then exemplified a diverse society whose folkways survived beyond the city’s ruins. Thailand’s Angkor is known now for its majestic temples, but in the 13th century, those were just part of an agriculturally complex and sprawling region with a sophisticated infrastructure that was hard to maintain amid climate fluctuation and shaky leadership. Cahokia, located near present-day Saint Louis, was at its height (circa 1050 C.E.) an agricultural epicenter big on collective gatherings, fun and not (human sacrifices were common), until flood and drought likely took a toll. Newitz colors the narrative with accounts of personal visits to each site and interviews with the archaeologists there, many of whom debunk past scholars who looked at sites through a Western lens. (Not every naked female figurine represents a fertility goddess; not every successful society is rigidly hierarchical.) The author also attacks contemporary scholars like Jared Diamond, who argued that ancient civilizations collapse outright; more correctly, Newitz argues, multiple forces challenge and disperse communities. In an era of climate change, it’s a hearteningly un-dystopian message but still a challenge to leaders to focus on “resilient infrastructure…public plazas, domestic spaces for everyone, social mobility, and leaders who treat the city’s workers with dignity.” A revealing look at the ancient past that speaks thoughtfully to the global-warming present.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65266-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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

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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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