An eye-opening and highly readable picture of London’s reactions to the killer fog that has characterized it for centuries.

LONDON FOG

THE BIOGRAPHY

Most readers would doubt that an entire book about fog could be interesting, but Corton, in her first publication, presents an intriguing biography of the weather effect that defined a national character.

We tend to think of life in a pea-souper, or “London particular,” as filled with romantic trysts or dastardly attacks à la Jack the Ripper. What the author really drives home is the deadliness of the winter fogs, during which, over the course of London’s history, countless coal fires burned in the city’s hearths. Homes as well as industries burned soft bituminous coal from Newcastle, one of the dirtiest fuels. The thickness of the fog even led to hundreds of choking deaths. One couldn’t see to walk, horses couldn’t see to carry passengers, and theaters closed because the audiences couldn’t see the performances. One didn’t open a window for ventilation because it would allow the soot into the house. Corton explains the windless London Basin, which has always gathered moisture, the temperature inversions that trapped it, and the makeup of the yellow, sulfurous killer. The author discusses whether it’s smoke or fog, a problem solved by the introduction of the term “smog,” and painters, writers, and other artists become a large part of the narrative. Dickens used fog as a metaphor for London, while Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde used the fog as a cloak for moral degeneracy. Painters found that fog distorted form and perspective, but the impressionists relished it. Monet loved the fog, and Whistler made it his specialty. Oscar Wilde’s quip shows the general attitude to fog: “where the cultured catch an effect, the uncultured catch cold.” The author also chronicles unsuccessful attempts to clear the air, with industry fighting it and Londoners fearing the loss of their home fires.

An eye-opening and highly readable picture of London’s reactions to the killer fog that has characterized it for centuries.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-674-08835-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

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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