A serviceable history of Dungeons & Dragons coupled with an insightful look at the game’s allure.



A child of the polyhedral dice returns to the fantasy game of his youth in a reverential history of the innovative pastime that has launched billions of role-playing adventures.

Before Dungeons & Dragons, those with a fetish for alternate time periods and a visceral need to escape the banality of everyday life would wage tabletop war against each other in meticulously rendered re-enactments of history’s greatest battles. Soon, however, even these highly orchestrated military clashes began to grow a bit tiresome—until someone threw wizards and other magical entities into the mix. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson are the pioneering duo credited with merging old war simulations with a revolutionary gaming system that removed “winning” as the objective and encouraged imaginative players to keep their adventures going in perpetuity—or, at least, until their characters ran out of all-important hit points. Then again, in D&D, resurrection is never really out of the question, either. Forbes senior editor Ewalt adroitly parallels his return to D&D after years away in the “grown-up world” of journalism with the story of how Gygax and Arneson originally came together in the early 1970s to form Tactical Studies Rules, Inc.; the author also covers the ensuing split between the creators. The former thread, however, is by far the more engaging, as the rise and fall and resurgence of the D&D empire has been well-documented elsewhere. Hard-core D&D followers will find few revelations in Ewalt’s personal dungeon crawl through TSR history. However, for those who don’t know a Ranger from a Rogue or a Hobgoblin from a Halfling, the author’s devotion to the game does much to illuminate role-playing’s enduring power on mortal men and women.

A serviceable history of Dungeons & Dragons coupled with an insightful look at the game’s allure.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4050-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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