A valuable historical record, but transcribed interviews are often a tough slog, so many readers will prefer to wait for...

EDWARD M. KENNEDY

AN ORAL HISTORY

The latest in the publisher’s oral history project: Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009).

Over the course of these dense 500 pages, we learn that Kennedy was a complex personality who became an effective lawmaker and one of the last eminent representatives of a now-quiescent political philosophy: liberalism. Editor Perry (Presidential Studies/Univ. of Virginia; Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch, 2013, etc.), an authority on the Kennedy family, assembles a rich mélange that displays her subject’s “multifaceted personality—marked by an infectious joie de vivre, a profound humanity, and, sadly, feet of clay.” A mediocre student, Kennedy preferred football to studying at Harvard. Even before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law (Harvard’s rejected him), he managed brother John’s 1958 Senate re-election campaign, where his charm and energy served him well. After helping JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign, he coveted and easily won John’s vacant Senate seat in 1962. However, disasters dogged a long career: his brothers’ assassinations in 1963 and 1968, nearly fatal injuries in a 1964 air crash, his son’s leg amputation for cancer in 1973, and the still murky 1969 car accident that killed campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne and probably eliminated his chance of becoming president. By the 1970s, with Kennedy situated in a safe Senate seat, the book becomes a record of his political passions. Paying for his son’s expensive chemotherapy was easy, but he noticed other parents had mortgaged their houses. This began a lifetime fight for national health insurance, which joined campaigns for immigration reform, against discrimination in housing, and in favor of women’s rights and (ahead of his time) gay rights and gay marriage. His private life receives its due, but Kennedy has had a lifetime to formulate insightful explanations, so readers will learn little new.

A valuable historical record, but transcribed interviews are often a tough slog, so many readers will prefer to wait for historians to absorb and interpret the material.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-19-064484-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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.

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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