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LATITUDE ZERO

TALES OF THE EQUATOR

For the armchair adventurer: history rendered as a libretto to the planet’s grand opera.

A series of historical vignettes in exotic locales, skillfully woven together by Guadalupi (The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, not reviewed) and co-writer and translator Shugaar.

The Equator? Merely a metaphor for the vanishing world of the tropical frontier that civilization will eventually pave over. But a nose for motive worthy of a big-city detective enables the authors to wring fresh romance and pathos from this centuries-old process. Its lure draws the obscure along with the celebrated; dreamers, scholars, adventurers, and opportunists converge along with the dangerously obsessed, often stalked by the inevitable scoundrel who waits to pick their bones. Guadalupi, a gifted historian armed with a boundless supply of corroborating detail, insinuates himself—and his readers—into the most intimate antechambers and boudoirs, no matter how remote in time or distance. We see 16th-century conquistadors lashed by icy winds on an Andean plateau, trooping inexorably toward the Equatorial rainforest that will engulf, madden, and ultimately swallow them. This is hardly fresh material: Magellan is punctured by native spears; Krakatoa blows its top; Stanley exploits Livingston. Even the wacky nude Baroness with her free-love commune in the Galapagos Islands has been the subject of several other works. But the authors, aided by Shugaar’s stylishly accessible translation, add intrigue to this retelling by deftly setting the scene from both historical and geographical perspectives. (In a rare lapse, they introduce the Galapagos without mentioning the cold ocean current that makes possible the rich variety of unique flora and fauna there.) Triumph and tragedy seem equally weighted; lust for gold, power, or fame is sometimes derailed by lust for . . . well, the usual. Most satisfying are gems of defining moments, evenly paced to arrive on schedule: the jungle relents, opens its green maw and spits out the plucky if none-too-clever Victorian dilettante who proceeds to ask for a cold beer by brand name.

For the armchair adventurer: history rendered as a libretto to the planet’s grand opera.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2001

ISBN: 978-0-7867-0901-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Carroll & Graf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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