A comprehensive, proficient history of “a tale of remarkable engineering stimulated by imperial ambition.”



A survey of an underrated railway line that helped Russia become a world power and also contributed to several revolutions.

British transportation specialist Wolmar (The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America, 2012, etc.) certainly knows his stuff, and he asserts that the construction of the Trans-Siberian, the longest railroad in the world, had repercussions across the world—indeed, “it was the railway line that did most to create today’s geopolitical system.” Although imperial Russia came to the idea of building a railroad rather late in the game (England’s Liverpool-Manchester line was the first, in 1830), due to the country’s undeveloped economy and political system, Czar Nicholas I approved an initial, highly successful short line between St. Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo, his summer residence, in 1837, followed by a St. Petersburg-Moscow line. Czar Alexander III embraced modern technology, and though a huge drain on the government coffers, the notion of Russia’s catching up to the West became irresistible; however, it took finance minister Sergei Witte to galvanize forces in 1892. His overarching vision of a Trans-Siberian railroad would help populate Siberia, aid in the transport of resources and troops, and industrialize the country. Witte saw the railroad as the key to economic success and to show that “Russia was the equal of the great powers of Europe.” Wolmar demonstrates how the railroad was built (with much American know-how) over an astonishingly short amount of time—slicing through Manchuria and arousing the ire of the Chinese and Japanese, leading to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904—as well as how officials cut corners by taking curves too sharply and skimping on materials. Nonetheless, it was completed in 1916 and also served to contribute to the Revolution of 1917.

A comprehensive, proficient history of “a tale of remarkable engineering stimulated by imperial ambition.”

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-452-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet