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ANIMALS STRIKE CURIOUS POSES

Passarello manages to chronicle humanity's cavalier exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals without getting preachy in the...

An essayist populates a bestiary of an ark with famous animals from history, all celebrated by humans even as we harnessed and exploited them.

Passarello (English/Oregon State Univ.; Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays, 2012) welds eccentric stylistics, which can feel rather too fanciful or ethereal, to more grounded and less “poetic” deliberations on varied well-known species while revealing that we do not know as much about them as we thought. The former do not read as essays so much as peculiar little anthropomorphic meditations, some of which presuppose areas of knowledge on the reader's part while providing meager enlightenment of their own. They tend toward the allegorical, peppered with all manner of similes and labored metaphors, which work only occasionally. What are we to make of such lines as, “the stews downriver had less fornication,” or the curious amalgam of elephant and electricity in “Jumbo II”? Doubtless these installments are matters of taste, though some readers may wonder at the point of it all. Thankfully, the majority of the book is more concrete, definitely more engaging, and decidedly more edifying. Despite Passarello’s tendency to ramble, there is an agile intelligence at work in the best pieces, as she makes connections among disparate elements and wields keen perceptions on the creatures she encounters. There are some real dazzlers. Particularly impressive are “Vogel Staar,” a meld of Mozart and starling, “Four Horsemen,” an anatomical evaluation of our equine friends and the partnership we share, and “Celia,” an elegy for the disturbing pace of extinctions, past and present. Another fine piece, “Lancelot,” uses autobiographical elements to prime a salvo on the commercialization of animals and the hollowness of zoos. Even Beatrix Potter takes her lumps.

Passarello manages to chronicle humanity's cavalier exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals without getting preachy in the process—no mean feat. If only the entirety of the book reflected the gifts the author demonstrates at her best.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941411-39-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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