Engaging stories from a fabled place where many arrived broke and most left that way.

MILE-HIGH FEVER

SILVER MINES, BOOM TOWNS AND HIGH LIVING ON THE COMSTOCK LODE

How a mammoth vein of silver ore—a “Babylon of the Great American Desert”—helped shape the West.

Washington Post Book World contributing editor Drabelle begins in 1857 on a mountainside on the Nevada side of the Sierras. Rumors of gold drew prospectors from the abandoned remains of California’s Forty-Niner rush. In the yet unnamed Virginia City, initial diggings quickly showed that the Nevada find would be of the silver variety. What would years later be revealed as a single vein stretching two miles long would, during the following two decades, yield a series of bonanzas interspersed with excesses of greed, deception and plenty of good times. Ironies, the author writes, began to spring up immediately. The Comstock Lode took its name from a blowhard self-promoter who was no good at mining or much else, and who eventually committed suicide. The flurry of “culture” drawn by the promised wealth included newspapers that employed journalists of the stature of Mark Twain (frequently quoted here) and Ambrose Bierce, yet were edited by men who published at the beck and call of the powerful. Drabelle is thorough in documenting conflicts with exploited Native Americans, the stress of hard-rock mining at deep levels where temperatures could fell a man in 15 minutes and the sheer technological innovation—later adapted across other industries—needed to process silver ore efficiently. The bulk of the narrative, however, involves the few who actually made off with the riches and how they did it: manipulating mining share prices down to buy them, up to sell them, assessing speculators for operating expenses, charging them fraudulently via ore-processing mills they also controlled—and, of course, buying the necessary judges and/or juries when stockholder or rivals’ lawsuits were launched.

Engaging stories from a fabled place where many arrived broke and most left that way.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37947-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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

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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

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