Sometimes speculative but always solid: a provocative essay that points toward dozens of topics for future dissertations....

THE AMERICAS

A HEMISPHERIC HISTORY

An ambitious but necessarily thin essay that “attempts to cover the entire hemisphere.”

Fernández-Armesto (History/Oxford; Near a Thousand Tables, 2002, etc.) allows that this effort “has not been tried before.” Understandably so, given the wealth of documentary material and the diversity of the peoples in North and South America; a couple of hundred pages is barely enough to cover the political history of Newfoundland, much less two continents and their outliers, which historically have touched on the coasts of Africa and Asia. Faced with a deluge of data and subjects, the author wisely settles on a few choice themes, none fully fleshed, each worthy of longer studies. One is the cultural history of pre-Columbian America, which, he observes, reflects a fundamental ecological imbalance. Whereas South America and Mesoamerica were rich in species and civilizations, much of North America was more austere and less developed, a skewing that continued well into historic times. “The relative paucity of civilization in most of North America cannot be explained by isolation,” Fernández-Armesto writes, going on to offer several explanations that involve, well, isolation, given the effects of topography and climate. Another fruitful theme is the parallel development of a sense of “Americanness” on both continents. At about the time colonial Virginians were beginning to think of themselves as something other than misplaced Englishmen, Creoles in Spanish-speaking countries were calling themselves Americans, affecting native dress, even maintaining that “American nature was superior to that of the Old World—according to some claims, even the sky was more benign and astral influences more favorable.” Fruitful, too, are the tantalizing, sometimes offhand observations on American borrowings of Spanish adaptations to the New World, ranging from intermarriage with Indian people à la John Smith to the proud appropriation of the term “liberal,” and the comparison of frontier-settlement patterns and ideologies in Canada, Brazil, and the US.

Sometimes speculative but always solid: a provocative essay that points toward dozens of topics for future dissertations. Budding historians, get cracking.

Pub Date: May 13, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50476-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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

NIGHT

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.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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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