Pleasant and engaging—as historical document, travel journal and film footnote.



A compact history of a little-known WWI battle that inspired a well-known film.

The battle for Lake Tanganyika may not be as thoroughly covered by historians as the battle of Verdun, but seizing control of the lake was strategically important to Great Britain, as Foden (the Whitbread Award–winning The Last King of Scotland, 1998, etc.) shows in this meticulous, engaging and gracefully written account. In control of Lake Tanganyika, the Germans were poised to overrun the Belgians, who had entered the war as allies of Britain. As Britain’s great naval leaders were otherwise engaged, the Admiralty decided in 1915 to dispatch the clumsy, eccentric and egomaniacal Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson to rout the Germans. Desperate to become a hero—but practical enough to wear a skirt in the African jungle heat—Spicer-Simson led a motley crew that hauled two 40-foot mahogany gunboats (the Mimi and the Toutou) overland, then sailed them up the darkest Congo. Battling disease-carrying insects, boat-rattling hippopotami and natives craving “food that once talked,” the men witnessed an Africa that no longer exists, a forbidding and enticing place Foden describes in vivid detail. Eventually, the boats destroyed the Graf von Götzen, the mighty German ship commanding the lake. Spicer-Simson backed off from challenging one other German ship, but that didn’t preclude his rising to mythical status when he returned home. If threads of this adventure sound familiar, it’s because they eventually became the woof of C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel and John Huston’s 1951 film The African Queen. In an epilogue, Foden follows the story’s journey to the depths of the Congo.

Pleasant and engaging—as historical document, travel journal and film footnote.

Pub Date: April 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4157-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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