An eye-opening account of a national disaster that has been all but forgotten, as well as a shameful spotlight on the...



The story of the worst flood in American history and how it overwhelmed the Ohio river valley and much of the lower Mississippi in January and February 1937.

Writing that “the 1937 flood is a catastrophe lost to historians,” Welky (Univ. of Central Arkansas; The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, 2008, etc.) exposes the weaknesses in the Army Corps of Engineers’ approach to river management, many of which were known at the time. Had lessons been learned then, perhaps later disasters might have been avoided or had less-catastrophic results. The entire 981-mile length of the Ohio River was above flood stage at one point, along with tributaries from Pennsylvania to Illinois. Water surged 15 feet above previous records, covered 15,000 miles of highway and disrupted rail traffic across the eastern United States. Nearly 400 people died, and more than 1 million were forced to evacuate their homes. By the time of FDR's second inauguration, the flood was in full swing and was mentioned briefly in a radio address on January 30th, when the president called for a “national effort on a national scale…to decrease the probability of future floods and disasters.” Welky reviews the history of the process by which the Army Corps of Engineers institutionalized its role as the lead agency in river management. He argues that the Corps' insistence on building levees and floodways contributed to the scale of the disaster by channeling and accelerating the flood waters which easily over-topped the levees of towns across the valley. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of FDR's vision of a national-resources council to coordinate all aspects of river-basin management.

An eye-opening account of a national disaster that has been all but forgotten, as well as a shameful spotlight on the short-sightedness of humans in the face of the awesome powers of nature.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-226-88716-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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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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