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An entertaining study of a quirky historical episode.

Light social history about rainmaking in the arid American West.

Anyone who’s seen 110 Degrees in the Shade is already familiar with the story of Charles Hatfield. In the early 20th century, settlers west of the Mississippi were desperate for more water. Hatfield was the most famous of the dozens of scientists and charlatans who insisted they could create rain. He wasn’t, suggests Jenkins (Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral, 2000, etc.), a total fraud. His musing about rainmaking began in his mother’s kitchen, as he observed the interaction between steam and water vapor from a pot and a stove. Couldn’t he engineer some chemical version of steam, and bring down rain from the clouds? However unsound his science, Hatfield had early successes making rain in southern California in 1904. He gained fans (including not a few infatuated ladies) and financial backers, but he also earned enemies who thought his promises were hogwash; Willis More, head of the U.S. Weather Bureau, lambasted Hatfield at every opportunity. In 1915, San Diego, which badly needed rain, secured Hatfield’s services. After Hatfield’s machinations, the city definitely got rain—the worst storm in the history of the region, a storm that almost destroyed it. The “landscape,” writes Jenkins, who spends almost 100 pages detailing the inundation, was “liquidized.” (The author seems fond of alliteration: we also read about a “delta of debris” and a “fortnight of frustration.”) The storm simply made Hatfield more controversial and more famous. Newspapers ate him up with a spoon. But as dams came to the West, the demand for rainmakers, even legendary Charlie, declined. By the late 1930s, Hatfield was making his living selling sewing machines and real estate. Did he actually cause all that rain in San Diego? Maybe, and maybe not, says Jenkins: “We can never know.”

An entertaining study of a quirky historical episode.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-56025-675-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2005

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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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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