Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”



How 500 years of European rule in the Caribbean helped determine the patterns of “human malfeasance” repeated globally to the present day.

In an ambitious work bringing together fragmented histories of more than 20 different islands across an area of 3,000 miles, journalist Gibson, a scholar of the Spanish Caribbean trained at Cambridge University, finds in the unifying theme of a colonial heritage the sobering legacy of exploitation, greed and inequality. A drive for “grain, gold and God” seized the first Portuguese explorers, while Christopher Columbus, infused in the work of Marco Polo, was so certain that he could navigate a passage to the East that when he landed at “San Salvador,” he was sure he had struck Polo’s Cipango—Japan. Yet this was not a land of Oriental splendor but rather islands occupied by humble indigenous peoples; nonetheless, “desire would triumph over reason,” which became a recurrent theme for hundreds of years. Sugar production—rendered profitable by the Portuguese and Genoese on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Canaries—was quickly established in these new colonies of the West Indies, along with tobacco, salt, coffee, cacao and, later, cotton. The distinctive and organized indigenous people were enslaved, killed by new diseases or converted, and new plants and animals were introduced, including farm animals, grapes and wheat (in addition to all manner of insects and microbes). A globalized factory system was thus put into place on Hispaniola, Cuba, Barbados and elsewhere, and the use of indentured servants was discarded in favor of African slaves. The hunger for luxury goods created a “growing global commodity chain” that would define the region, spurring world warfare and revolution once inequality between the haves and have-nots grew unsustainable. Bolstered by her travel experiences in St. Martin, Trinidad, Guyana and other places, Gibson delivers a useful, manageable history of the region.

Judicious chronicles of individual islands (Haiti, Cuba) emerge from a larger, bleak picture of an “invented paradise.”

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2614-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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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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