A captivating look at a singular American figure and the tumultuous history he helped fashion.



A historical account examines Theodore Roosevelt’s quest to prepare the United States for its entry into World War I.

In 1915, the British ocean liner the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat while making its way from New York to Liverpool, killing nearly 1,200 passengers. Roosevelt was enraged by this act of naval aggression and equally furious by what he considered President Woodrow Wilson’s pusillanimous response to it. Roosevelt became obsessed with preparing the nation for war, though the country had neither the men nor the supplies—and perhaps not the funds—for a protracted foreign engagement. Wilson opposed him bitterly and staked his presidency on the attractive combination of peace and prosperity. Roosevelt seriously contemplated a bid for the presidency in 1916, but the GOP was deeply distrustful of him as well as resentful given the way his failed third party bid in 1912 essentially ushered Wilson into office. Pietrusza (1960, 2018, etc.) powerfully captures Roosevelt’s frustration: “He wanted the presidency, craved vindication, fairly lusted for a chance to crush Woodrow Wilson and all his old enemies. But he knew that for all his heroism, he lacked public support, and that fatal defect preyed upon him.” The author provides a remarkably detailed account of the 1916 election and Roosevelt’s indefatigable push for military readiness as well as the emotional toll the war took on him—all four of his sons fought in it, and one lost his life. Pietrusza’s research is magisterially rigorous, swinging expertly from microscopic details to a vivid drawing of a more general tableau. The fulcrum of the book is Roosevelt’s capacious character: his near-comical obsession with the trumpeting of manly virtue, his thunderous economic populism, and his great sensitivity to loss—he had a “significant suicidal streak”—all somehow contained within one man. The author memorably contrasts the former president with Wilson, a man Roosevelt came to deeply loathe, a patrician academic who longed to disentangle the nation from Europe’s savage intramural disputes. Pietrusza clearly harbors an admiration for his subject but avoids any fawning hagiography, though one could argue his depiction of Wilson could be more generous. Further, the author adeptly tracks the transformation of the country’s mood, which gradually moved closer to Roosevelt’s sentiments: disdainful of Wilson’s intrusive foreign policy in the Americas but dispassionately neutral when it came to Europe. Pietrusza’s prose is sharply buoyant and transparent, and the story unfolds almost in novelistic fashion, presented as an electric contest of dominating wills rather than a dry recitation of historical facts. And while the author’s treatment focuses on the run-up to the war, he manages to paint a comprehensive view of Roosevelt’s life and the “sheer bloodlust” of which he was formidably capable. This is a fine scholarly achievement: psychologically searching, scrupulously devoted to accuracy, and dramatically gripping.

A captivating look at a singular American figure and the tumultuous history he helped fashion.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4930-2887-0

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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.



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