A reader-friendly glance at a turning point in history.

“No vill or man shall be forced to build bridges at river banks, except those who ought to do so by custom and law.”

The years preceding 1215 in England were bad ones, apparently, for the folks who didn’t wish to be press-ganged into building bridges; they weren’t much better for those who liked a little variety in their diet, for in those days “the poor virtually fasted every day,” even if their simple repasts spared them from the tooth decay that the rich, with their artificial sweeteners, suffered. British historian/writers Danziger (co-author, The Year 1000, 1999, etc.) and Gillingham (History/London School of Economics) take readers on an informal, sometimes even breezy tour of the times, explaining oddments and customs: Chairs being rare, for instance, visitors to a house were usually seated on daybeds; only an important guest was given the seat of honor, whence the modern term “chairman” or “chair.” Danziger and Gillingham linger appreciatively on some of the better aspects of the day, when cathedrals and seats of learning were established and England’s holdings were beginning to expand across the waters to France and Ireland. But they don’t shy from the less idyllic features of life in Merrie Olde, when slavery may have been abolished but serfdom endured (“Economic and social circumstance inevitably meant that some people were less free than others”). Their narrative, which moves along nicely, closes with the rebellion of the English knights against King John, who, most commentators agree, needed to be rebelled against; the result was the Magna Carta, a translation of the complete text of which closes this study (and makes it of extra use for readers seeking good value for their shilling). Danziger and Gillingham suggest that the most important clauses of the Magna Carta concern the requirements for fair trials and judgment by peers—but protection against having to build bridges unwillingly must have been nice, too.

A reader-friendly glance at a turning point in history.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5773-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004


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



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

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