From historian and former Librarian of Congress Boorstin (The Creators, 1992, etc.), 17 sparkling and erudite essays that ``explore some of the surprising novelties and unexpected continuities in our recent past.'' Boorstin is a magnificent anachronism: He still believes in the essential goodness of the American experiment, and as an amateur rather than professional historian, he prefers straightforward narratives on grand themes rather than narrowly focused, footnote-laden quarrels with musty academics. These pieces, all published since 1986 as either keynote addresses or introductions to other writers' books, amply display his gift for arresting anecdotes and his ability to connect different events in compelling new ways. Several of his interests come to the fore here. First is his fascination with discovery and the creative process. He discusses the partnership between ``the search to know'' (discovery) and ``the passion to innovate'' (invention) and our current ``Age of Negative Discovery'' (case in point: James Cook, whose 18th-century Pacific explorations showed that the ``Great Southern Continent'' did not exist). While dazzled by advances in science and technology, Boorstin remains aware of their ephemeral nature, noting that all discovery ultimately reveals new realms of human ignorance. On the positive side, technology has given rise to revered American institutions; mass printing, for instance, paved the way for greater public acceptance of the Constitution. As a social analyst, Boorstin examines the role of conscience in Western literature and in America's current contentious politics. Alexis de Tocqueville and the Marquis de Custine, who wrote respectively of 1830s America and Russia, are his examples of social commentators who use history as a ``cautionary science'' and an avenue into a nation's soul. Finally, he offers a personal tribute to his lawyer father and ``the amateur spirit'' in the arts. Like the curious amateurs he celebrates, Boorstin offers ``a wonderful vagrancy into the unexpected.''

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43505-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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


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.



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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