Compelling narratives with a personal voice, with some utopian political bite.



A journalist and author drives his truck around the East visiting utopian communities—past and present—and concludes we need to think more like those folks.

Currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky, Reece (An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God, 2009, etc.) is, as he acknowledges, a restless soul who loves hopping in his truck and going where his considerable curiosity dictates. After a brief introduction to utopian thinking, the author chronicles his visit to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a former Shaker community. In this chapter, we see the pattern that characterizes the others: an intermingling of history with assessments of current status, riffs on why the community eventually failed, and thoughts on what we could learn from the utopians; later, he adds comparisons—e.g., how does community F differ from or resemble communities A-E? Some names serving as touchstones pop up continually: historian Walter Benjamin, poet Wendell Berry. Also popping up are some usage issues: a couple of instances of “revert back” and “sojourn” misused as a synonym for “journey.” Reece is a most gracious guest during visits: respectful, inquisitive, and appreciative of the current community of Acorn (in Virginia), where nudity thrives. The places he profiles include the expected (New Harmony, Indiana; Oneida, New York) and some generally unfamiliar areas: Monk’s Pond, in Kentucky; Utopia, Ohio—precious little remains; Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York). Throughout, Reece provides swift surveys of the lives of various principals: Thoreau at Walden Pond, Josiah Warren on Long Island, and Oneida’s John Humphrey Noyes, who personally delivered the sexual initiation of girls in his community. Later, Noyes fled to Canada, pursued by a statutory rape charge, and Reece ends by following Noyes’ route to Niagara Falls and ruminating about what he sees as our current ruinous economic and social policies.

Compelling narratives with a personal voice, with some utopian political bite.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-10657-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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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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