Though without the encompassing narrative fire of a Stegner or McMurtry, a pleasing contribution to the history of the...



History of the boom-and-bust cycles of the cattle industry in the wildest days of the Wild West.

Former Fortune magazine London bureau chief Knowlton knows a good business story when he sees it, and if the business of America is business, the nation’s business of the late 19th century was conquering the frontier and converting it into a feedlot and granary. The open-range cattle scramble lasted only a few decades, but it gave the larger world the stereotype of the cowboy as a “curious blend of American everyman and chivalrous Victorian nobleman,” with a hint of crusading knight thrown in for good measure. Among the figures who populate the author’s set pieces are Teddy Blue, who came as close to that ideal cowboy as anyone on the prairie, and the well-studied Teddy Roosevelt, who sought to expand his fortune as a rancher on the Dakota plains. Knowlton moves dutifully from topic to topic, from the technological developments of wire fencing here to the makings of sonofabitch stew there, enough to satisfy readers with a passing interest in the Old West but only wet the whistles of buffs. Readers raised on the revisionist histories of Richard White and Patricia Nelson Limerick may find Knowlton’s emphasis on Anglo cattle barons and necktie parties a little old-fashioned. The author’s background in finance comes in handy when he turns to the economics of cattle, perhaps the best single aspect of the book: “The price of shares in existing cattle companies declined sharply,” he writes of one episode involving protectionist legislation, “making it impossible for new cattle syndicates to be formed or for existing ones to make more money.” Knowlton’s account of the so-called Johnson County War, pitting big business against small “nesters” in Wyoming, is excellent, a story complete enough to make a book within a book.

Though without the encompassing narrative fire of a Stegner or McMurtry, a pleasing contribution to the history of the post–Civil War frontier.

Pub Date: May 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-36996-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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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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