A suspenseful disaster narrative.



Popular historian Laskin (Partisans, 2000, etc.) gives an engrossing if speculative account of a brutal 1888 blizzard that signaled the end of optimism on the Great Plains.

“The tragedy of the January 12 blizzard was that the bad timing extended across a region and cut through the shared experiences of an entire population,” asserts the author. Laskin shrewdly takes a broad historical view, arguing that the snowstorm—which killed hundreds, including numerous schoolchildren—demonstrated the folly of settling the Dakota and Nebraska territories. In his telling, scores of Germans, Scandinavians, and persecuted Ukrainian Mennonites found irresistible American railroad agents’ promises of free grassland prairie homesteads in “one of the most beautiful climates in the world.” Though the land was indeed spacious, it proved capricious and unforgiving of the immigrants’ naiveté, besetting them with locusts, fires, snowstorms, droughts, and other seeming “acts of God.” Still, nothing compared to the 1888 blizzard, as its stoic survivors’ awed narratives make clear. Precursor storms arrived throughout 1887, devastating the open-range system of cattle management. (Theodore Roosevelt’s losses were particularly severe.) When temperatures rose unaccountably on January 12, the hapless settlers, unaware of what such oddities portended, assumed the warmth was more than momentary. Laskin intercuts between their recollections and the fledgling weather forecast service provided by the War Department’s Signal Corps, headed by notoriously incompetent martinet Adolphus Greely, who serves as the primary villain here. Clearly fascinated with forecasting’s infancy, the author leaves open the question of whether quicker communications or less interference by Greely might have helped save the far-flung settlers. Some children owed their lives to plucky schoolteachers who sequestered them in one-room schoolhouses overnight, burning desks for warmth; many others perished, snow-blind, only yards from inhabited structures. The blizzard’s toll provided fodder for the nation’s newspapers, which highlighted maudlin tales of heroism and tragedy; it also forced the transfer in 1891 of forecasting responsibilities to the Department of Agriculture.

A suspenseful disaster narrative.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-052075-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?


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?

No Comments Yet