A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great...



City-slickers versus countryfolk, skeptics versus Bible-thumpers: the red state/blue state divide was there at the very start of the nation.

As Gertrude Himmelfarb groused in her grouchy Roads to Modernity (2004), there were several Enlightenments. Whereas she clearly prefers the English one to the icky French version, Staloff (History/CUNY; The Making of an American Thinking Class, 1997) finds virtues—but also failings—in the several approaches to the Enlightenment endorsed and even represented by three well-covered Founding Fathers. If Immanuel Kant defined the Enlightenment and its forebears in rationalism as “dare to know!,” then Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton expanded it to read “dare to act!” But each took a different tack. Hamilton found a perfect republic in the marketplace, marked by “commercial prosperity, economic growth, and social mobility”; by Staloff’s view, Hamiltonian man evolved into the New Yorker of today, full of moneymaking energy but not necessarily of the patrician graces. Jefferson, that “Romantic visionary,” took his cues from France, at least in part because he conceived such a great hatred of the English crown during the Revolution; the proposed Jay treaty drove him to distraction, as did what he regarded as Adams’s (and Hamilton’s) secret entreaties to the English in the postwar era, hoping to get the pounds rolling back to the ports of New York and New England. (Hamilton retorted by accusing Jefferson of having “a womanish attachment to France and a womanish resentment against Great Britain.”) And Adams’s Enlightenment allowed a meritocracy, but certainly not a democracy: talent and genius were rare, he reckoned, and it was a fool’s job to suppose everyone equal; “No love of equality,” he railed, “ever existed in human nature.” Yet all embraced republicanism, if with different wrinkles, and associated doctrines whose origins were, Staloff notes, urban in origin, the stuff of smart coffeehouses and salons, hinging on access to the printed word and best read with at least some sense of irony and humor, and hopeful that the nation was capable of self-governance.

A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great revolutionaries.

Pub Date: July 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-8090-7784-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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