A droll, tongue-in-cheek view of history best taken in small doses and with a grain of salt.


Historical sketches of 48 countries that no longer exist.

“Countries die,” writes Defoe on the first page. “Sometimes it’s murder. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s because they were too ludicrous to exist in the first place.” The author, who admittedly uses the term country broadly, provides brief, often humorous summaries not intended to provide a comprehensive, scholarly examination of extinct countries. The book contains a mixture of familiar nations and “countries” that many readers may have never known existed (Poyais, Khwarezmia, the Free State of Bottleneck, the Great Republic of Rough & Ready, etc.). Although Defoe offers a clever perspective, the satirical tone occasionally misses the mark. Regarding the Kingdom of Bavaria (1805-1918): “Every morning, Ludwig II, the fourth king of Bavaria, would have his barber tease out his hair into a weird bouffant that made his head look massive.” The Principality of Elba (1814-1815): “It had been a rough few years and, like desperate parents sticking an iPad in front of their difficult toddler, the great powers of Europe decided to give the recently vanquished Emperor Napoleon a little country of his own to play with.” The author’s irreverent, often biting style captures numerous unsettling elements of world history. “The Confederate States of America hasn’t been a thing for a century and a half,” he writes, “but that doesn’t stop cowardly Nazis (in those parts of Europe where the swastika is banned) from using the Confederate flag as a coded bumper sticker.” And: “The new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, barely out of its bubble wrap, first fell apart in World War II. Croatia enthusiastically hooked up with the Axis powers. So enthusiastically in fact, that the Nazis found the Croat massacres of the Serbs a bit hard to stomach (compared to their own, much neater genocides).” It’s not Niall Ferguson, but it fits the historical facts.

A droll, tongue-in-cheek view of history best taken in small doses and with a grain of salt.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60945-680-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Europa Compass

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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