Depicted with precision and sympathy: the adventures of a single family prove to also be the story of how America changed...



Bingham’s debut presents Jews in knee-breeches and hoop skirts, capturing the chosen people’s romance with America in a family history through three generations.

From the days shortly after the Revolution, when founding father Jacob Mordecai established an ethical covenant with his progeny, through the post–Civil War national expansion, when the clan’s cohesive spirit dissipated, the Mordecais were active in education, commerce, and spiritual matters. Leaving the North, Jacob quickly established roots in antebellum North Carolina, keeping store there as many coreligionists would do in years to come. When business faltered, the Mordecais undertook the education of young southern belles while also attending to the moral and mental improvement of family members. As the years passed, some engaged in finance, some in military service or law, while others remained bookish and quite concerned with matters relating to their souls. With strains on traditional practices, assimilation and intermarriage were surely inevitable, and the Mordecais’ activities foreshadow the subsequent advent of Judaism’s Reform movement. Divergent philosophies produced defection and apostasy; several members of the family embraced Jesus as Savior. But religion was not all that affected the family: Bingham hints at incest and shows the War Between the States dividing the one-time slaveholders; proto-communist notions and the utopianism of Brook Farm appealed to some Mordecais; others were enticed by free love; and one physician grappled with the problem of his frequent wet dreams. Crafting a family history that might have captivated Thomas Mann, the author paints distinct, expressive portraits of Rachel, Moses, Ellen, George, and all their kin; the distaff side is particularly vivid, perhaps because the women were prolific writers who produced considerable primary-source material. In many ways a case study in assimilation, the Mordecais’ story is not unique, but it is unusually well documented.

Depicted with precision and sympathy: the adventures of a single family prove to also be the story of how America changed Judaism in the 19th century. (16 pp. b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8090-2756-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet