Fascinating through and through, if open to debate.



A sprawling, highly readable history that judges America’s long struggle to defeat Communism a necessary battle badly fought from start to finish.

Did we do “a goddamn good job,” as nuclear strategist Paul Nitze once remarked? Yes and no, concludes Leebaert (Government/Georgetown Univ.): “yes if the overriding emphasis is that civilization survived more or less intact, that the Soviet Union collapsed peacefully, and that most of the world was liberalized along the way; no if we dwell on the indirection, inexcusable ignorance, political intrusions, personal opportunism, and crimes underlying this ultimate victory.” The author provides an impressive array of data to back up his assertion that the Cold War, fought with typical American haphazardness and reluctance, bled us dry, preventing us from building a New Jerusalem (or a decent health-care system) by diverting astonishing quantities of dollars into such things as developing intercontinental missiles and provisioning far-flung armies. There was good reason to confront the Communists, Leebaert allows: had the US not intervened in Korea in 1950, for instance, Josef Stalin “most likely would have been emboldened to crack down on Yugoslavia, the only independent Communist state in Europe.” But America’s conduct of the Cold War involved considerable betrayals (such as the abandonment of the Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956), unhappy alliances with tinhorn dictators around the world, stupid and foreseeable misadventures in places such as Vietnam, huge lies that overestimated the Soviet arsenal and the need to build up American arms to close the gap, and inexcusable gaffes in collecting and analyzing intelligence (Leebaert writes of the CIA, “no other single government body has blundered so often in so many ways integral to its designated purpose”). The author closes with a timely consideration of how such sorry artifacts of the Cold War threaten to reemerge in the new war against terrorism, led by some of the same players with much the same mindset.

Fascinating through and through, if open to debate.

Pub Date: March 25, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-51847-6

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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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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