A general lack of records compromises Dolin’s efforts, leaving one wanting to know more about notorious pirates such as...



A brief but intriguing history of piracy’s heyday.

The word “pirate” evokes numerous symbols and legends, but what were the pirates of yore actually like? Focusing on American waters during piracy’s “Golden Age” of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Dolin (Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, 2016, etc.) explains that pirates thrived in times of war, when privateering commissions provided a cover for more illicit activities. For a time, North American colonists welcomed these brigands, who simultaneously spent their ill-gotten gains in Colonial ports and provided an effective counter to unpopular English trade laws. Inevitably, however, they wore out their welcome, and a multipronged response by Colonial and English authorities in the aftermath of Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) virtually eliminated them. The author helpfully dismisses some of the more potent pirate myths. For example, there is little evidence that Cpt. William Kidd buried treasure on Gardiner’s Island, New York; pirates tended to spend their treasure right away, not inter it. Moreover, no documentation exists of any “Golden Age” pirate forcing someone to walk the plank. But Dolin is at his best when he offers generalizations of pirates and their trade. The majority of pirates were white men in their 20s, but a significant number were black slaves taken from captured ships who “became valued crewmembers who fought alongside their white pirate brethren and shared in the spoils.” Despite their reputation for violence, most pirates “never wanted to fight if they could avoid it,” as confrontation only put their lives, ships, and potential cargo in jeopardy. Finally, a pirate ship was a highly democratic and regulated place, as buccaneers selected their captains by majority vote and abided by a written code that “governed their behavior, the distribution of treasure, and the compensation provided in case of injury.”

A general lack of records compromises Dolin’s efforts, leaving one wanting to know more about notorious pirates such as Blackbeard and Edward Low. Nonetheless, the author offers an informative and often entertaining blend of narrative history and analysis that should appeal to a general audience.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-210-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2018

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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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