This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones...

MAGNA CARTA

THE BIRTH OF LIBERTY

At Runnymede in 1215, King John (1166-1216) signed the document that laid the foundation of our freedom. While not a myth, the reality is less glorious, writes British historian and media consultant Jones (The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, 2014, etc.) in this lively, popular account of the Magna Carta’s bumpy 800-year ride into immortality.

While contemporary historians often go easy on him, the author’s John is the villain of legend—but one who inherited a host of problems. His predecessors had strengthened England’s central government and weakened the aristocracy, partly in order to better finance their wars. By John’s accession to the throne, many were tired of yielding to an increasingly grasping monarchy. John quickly lost nearly all England’s extensive French possessions, and his expensive efforts to regain them provoked a rebellion, mediation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Magna Carta. Jones admits that the document was “something of a muddle, a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king, most of which concern arcane matters of thirteenth-century legal principles.” Rarely does a phrase reverberate such as “King John concedes that he will arrest no man without judgment nor accept any payment for justice nor commit any unjust act.” Both sides immediately resumed a civil war that ended with the monarchy’s victory a year after John’s death. For a century, kings reissued versions as reassuring pieces of public relations before it fell into obscurity, to be revived during the 17th-century English revolutions and in America a century later.

This is politics-and-great-men history documented by medieval archives and unreliable contemporary chroniclers, but Jones has done his homework to produce an insightful, satisfying history of a beloved, if usually unread, icon of freedom.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42829-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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