A sharp, graceful account of a fascinating place.

ODESSA

GENIUS AND DEATH IN A CITY OF DREAMS

A history of the site, from its geological structure to its often fragmented, usually fractious, frequently bloody human occupation.

King (International Affairs and Government/Georgetown Univ.; Extreme Politics: Nationalism, Violence, and the End of Eastern Europe, 2010, etc.), who has written extensively about the region and speaks Russian and Romanian, ably glides through Odessa’s history, geography and geopolitics. The city of Odessa, situated on the Black Sea’s northwestern coast and currently in the hands of Ukraine, was founded in 1794, near Khadjibey, a village of uncertain origins. It began as the ambitious plan of José Pascual Domingo de Ribas y Boyons, who convinced Catherine the Great that the site could become “the jewel of her new southern possessions.” Though Catherine died shortly after approving the start of construction, the project kept moving. King highlights the stories of numerous significant individuals whose biographies link to Odessa’s. Alexander I appointed Richelieu as city administrator in 1803, and he distinguished himself as a battler against the plague, which continually visited this port city. Pushkin lived and wrote in Odessa. The Charge of the Light Brigade was about 500 miles east along the shore. Isaac Babel, whom King labels “Odessa’s greatest writer,” wrote about the city. Sergei Eisenstein filmed his 1925 classic Battleship Potemkin there, with its classic scene on the Odessa Steps (King notes how little of the film is accurate). The author also carefully follows the fate of the city during the mid-20th-century’s turmoils—control shifted from Soviet to Romanian/German to Soviet to Ukrainian. No history of the city could be complete without an accounting of the vicious, murderous treatment of its Jewish population, a subject King handles well, allowing horrific statistics and wrenching individual human stories to carry the grim message. The author observes that the city today seems more interested in fanciful mythology than in historical memory.

A sharp, graceful account of a fascinating place.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07084-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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