A mostly trenchant book that oversells its contribution.



A first draft of the history of Jacob Zuma’s South Africa.

The publicity machine for Foster’s (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.) extensive tome on contemporary South Africa would have you believe that the author presents “a long-awaited revisionist account of a country whose recent history has not just been neglected but largely ignored by the west.” (Readers might rightly wonder how one can write revisionism of a history that has been largely ignored.) Foster has been traveling to South Africa regularly since 2004, and the extent of his legwork is unquestionable. He organizes his chapters loosely around various themes and individuals that allow him to explore the nature of South Africa’s democracy. In 2007, the African National Congress chose to remove Thabo Mbeki from the party presidency, replacing him with Zuma. While Foster tells this important story well, there is extensive literature about South Africa in the post-apartheid period, as Foster’s own far-from-complete bibliography makes clear. A good deal of the writing on the country has either come from Western academics and journalists or has otherwise been readily available in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, Foster’s subtitle is misleading, as he provides less a complete overview and assessment of post-apartheid South Africa than he does of the period since 2004. While the book’s promise and originality might be overstated, Foster’s journalistic chops are not. The author was obviously fantastic at cultivating contacts, and he draws insightful observations from the hundreds of people he interviewed and those he encountered in passing. He proved to be especially good at connecting with young people and drawing on their astute observations about the country they have inherited. Unfortunately, the author inserts himself on nearly every page, constantly reminding us that he was there.

A mostly trenchant book that oversells its contribution.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-478-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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