Conor Cruise O'Brien may or may not be ``the greatest living Irishman'' or ``the most important Irish nonfiction writer of the 20th century,'' but he has certainly found a splendid biographer in historian Akenson (History/Queen's Univ., Ontario). Born in 1917, O'Brien could seemingly do everything but math. He supported himself with prizes at university; wrote literary criticism; was on the fast track in the Irish Foreign Office until he jumped off it, carrying out too exactly the unattributable wishes of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjîld; was vice chancellor of the University of Ghana, a New York academic, an Irish Cabinet minister, editor-in-chief of The Observer, and the author of seminal books on Ireland and Edmund Burke. Along the way he became the enfant terrible of the UN, not only revealing in his To Katanga and Back how it worked but doing it in such entertaining fashion that Akenson calls it ``the first successful picaresque novel of postcolonial Africa, but...a novel that is built almost entirely of fact.'' He showed enormous courage in Ireland, denouncing the constitutionally asserted right of the South to exercise jurisdiction over Ulster as ``essentially a colonial claim'' and campaigning ceaselessly against the romanticization of violence. It would be surprising, in a life devoted to journalism and crusades of one kind or another, if O'Brien had not gone off the rails from time to time as he did in the late 1960s: His castigation of Western imperialism as ``one of the greatest and most dangerous forces in the world today'' and his statement that containing communism was one of the greatest dangers to world peace suggest his limitations. But his courage, his honesty, his restless mind, and his eloquent writing assured him of a wide audience, and his States of Ireland and The Great Melody have both been remarkably influential books, the latter, according to Akenson, ``among the great biographies of the 20th Century.'' This, too, is a very fine biography, full of wit, verve, candor, and a critical appreciation of its subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8014-3086-0

Page Count: 563

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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