THE WAY OF THE WORLD

FROM THE BIRTH OF CIVILIZATION TO THE AMERICAN CENTURIES

A skimpy survey of all human history, marked by a curious thesis. As Fromkin, who teaches international relations, history, and law at Boston University (A Peace to End All Peace, 1989), relates it, some years ago a Wall Street hedge fund manager challenged him to “tell the story of humanity in the universe——where else?——and make it whole.” With financiers, one supposes, not particularly concerned with the niceties of political correctness, Fromkin answers that challenge with a World Civ 101 syllabus, one that views history as a tale of constant improvements leading to “the only civilization still surviving, the scientific one of the modern world——and, more pointedly, the civilization of the US, which he believes has reached an apogee of mortal achievement. Fromkin begins at the beginning, brushing aside countless eras and a great deal of modern scholarship to deliver unilluminating statements like “Our remote primate ancestors were some sort of apes.” He proceeds to inform his readers that the Sumerians of the Uruk period more or less invented civilization, but it was one without a soul—a development that had to await the advent of Judeo-Christian thought. He also maintains that the world owes a debt to the West for its gift of rationalism, which is the progenitor of modern science, even if that doctrine was inconveniently delivered at the point of a sword and the end of a musket; and that robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan are to be forgiven for their misdeeds because, after all, they encouraged dreams of world peace. Fromkin’s rose-colored and simplistic view of scientific progress and the superiority of American virtues is oddly refreshing, old-fashioned as it is. But aside from bankers needing a refresher course in the humanities, it’s hard to imagine any other audience for his work.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-44609-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more