Imperfect but, still, entertaining and informative.



The history of Paris from “earliest times” until tomorrow.

Jones (History/Warwick Univ.; The Great Nation, 2003, etc.) opens with Julius Caesar and winds through antiquity toward the Middle Ages, giving us town-gown conflict in a Left Bank tavern at the opening of the 13th century to underscore the venerable roots of Parisian students’ obstreperousness. Passing through the Reformation, which shook 16th-century Paris, the narrative finally arrives at more familiar history: divine-right monarchs, Enlightenment, Revolution. Familiar, yes, but Jones provides all sorts of interesting tidbits. Louis XV felt ill-at-ease in the great city; he believed Parisians called him Louis the Well-Hated. During the Enlightenment, Parisians spent about three million livres a year on coffee—even more than they spent on cheese. A sobering look at the 20th century leads to the city’s present-day problems: industrial development, architectural conservation and the relationship between urban center and its suburbs, to name a few. But Paris, the author maintains, is unlikely to be defeated. Jones organizes his history chronologically, but gray-shaded “Feature Boxes” break the chronology to “operate like close-ups, fast-forward anticipations or rewind-retrospections.” For example, the first restaurants appeared on the Parisian scene in the late-18th century. Since they continue to shape Parisian culture, the chapter on the 1780s includes a Feature Box summarizing the history of dining out from then until now. It’s an understandable attempt to circumvent some of the problems with writing such sweeping history, but the boxes seem too gimmicky and are mostly a distraction rather than an embellishment. Meanwhile, the prose is altogether too self-consciously whimsical: apologizing for any of the book’s flaws, Jones demurs that he hopes nonetheless it “will contain enough of interest to manage a Michelin Guide recommendation: vaut le détour.” Finally, it seems odd that so long an overview has so little to say about Parisian women; at the very least, their key role in the French Revolution deserves mention.

Imperfect but, still, entertaining and informative.

Pub Date: April 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03393-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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