Astute, challenging, and far-reaching: There’s much to chew on in Marcus’ disquisition on Gatsby’s legacy.



The legendary rock critic digs into one of American literature’s cornerstones.

This ambitious, extended essay on America as seen through the “gravitational pull” of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is about how The Great Gatsby “exists on its own terms—as a commercial product, meant to make money and elevate a reputation, and as a story, an exposé and an illumination of the moral life of its characters, the country they inhabit, and the legacy the country’s discoverers and founders left for them to reckon with or ignore.” Less than a month before the publication date, Fitzgerald wanted to change the title to “Under the Red White and Blue.” Marcus asks: “What is it that Americans share?” The author, a master of juxtaposition, draws provocative, unexpected connections among literature, music, and movies. He uses quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois, Edmund Wilson, Lady Gaga, Barbara Jordan, and Bruce Springsteen to assess patriotism in America. He then discusses Moby-Dick, a novel “that, in America, defines the contours of a common imagination as much as anything America has ever produced.” Indeed, “in the American story, Ahab is always out there.” Marcus traces the Gatsby effect as it later weaved its way into the “American fabric” in books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Walter Mosley as well as, perhaps most significantly, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Instead of an ordinary plot summary, Marcus draws on Andy Kauffman’s quirky Gatsby reading on Saturday Night Live in 1978 and an extended discussion of Gatz, the six-hour public theatrical reading. After an insightful examination of the historical “ferment that fed the energies of the decade into Fitzgerald’s book,” Marcus goes to the movies. He dismisses the “enervating” Robert Redford version in favor of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 edition. The author is much taken with Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting and Tobey McGuire’s sensitive narration.

Astute, challenging, and far-reaching: There’s much to chew on in Marcus’ disquisition on Gatsby’s legacy.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-22890-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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