An intriguing look at a delicacy with a long, complex backstory.

A historical and personal look at women and their relationship with chocolate over the centuries.

Although many in the modern world consume chocolate regularly, how many stop to consider its long past? This book does so, and specifically addresses the roles that women have played in its history. Author and philanthropist Spenuzza begins her survey in ancient Ecuador, where it’s reported that archaeological teams have uncovered 5,300-year-old cacao-tinged vessels. The book includes a number of fine, telling details; for instance, it’s explained how records from the Inquisition in Mexico reveal women concocting potions, often using chocolate, in attempts to achieve magical ends. After a look at the ancient markets of Mesoamerica, where traveling merchant women played a prominent role, the book tackles Europe, and offers information that’s less gender-specific. Chocolate reached that continent sometime in the 16th century, the book notes; by 1544, the “stamina-enhancing benefits of chocolate were acknowledged by the Spanish.” Not that chocolate was immediately accepted by all that encountered it: Catholic theologians debated whether the substance should be considered a food or a drink. With time, however, chocolate would become loved by French royalty, commonplace in colonial America, and a fetishized foodstuff in the modern era. The author includes personal anecdotes among the historical information; she has, during many years of travel, always kept an eye out for “any nugget of new chocolate information,” she says. Overall, there are plenty of juicy tidbits here, often well referenced. Other points are, however, of limited interest and rather vague. For example, there’s a brief anecdote about a woman who arrived in New York City in 1885 with 10 pounds of chocolate; her luggage was detained and destroyed in a fire, resulting in a lawsuit. However, the tale doesn’t convey much about its setting or even the woman involved in it, which seems like a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, the book does enticingly explore how an incalculable number of lives have all been influenced by a now-common food.

An intriguing look at a delicacy with a long, complex backstory.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022




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. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020


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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